Off the Beaten Track in Paris – Get your Baton in Gear!

Paris off the beaten track
…Eiffel Tower…Louvre...Champs-Elysées; been there, done that – it was fun, but there’s more to Paris than this. The City of Light is full of wonderful hidden gems; you just need to know where to find them. Join me on a little tour, away from drunk English, moody French and bossy Germans, and discover off the beaten track in Paris.

Sewers of Paris
Paris has one of the most remarkable sewer networks in the world and you can now see it with your own eyes! Take a tour down under to learn more about the history of this huge sewer system. Definitely a different view of the city.

Goutte d’Or
Take metro line 4 and hop off at Chateau Rouge. The nearby Goutte d’Or district has a lot of inhabitants of African origin. These people know good food, so whilst wandering around, make sure to check out one (or more) of the many restaurants. Also not to miss is the street market at Rue Dejean, which is held every day but Monday.

Paris off the beaten trackThe Great Mosque of Paris
The beautiful Mosque of Paris was inaugurated in 1926 to honor the North African countries that had helped France during World War I. You’re most welcome to visit the Mosque and join a tour of the building, the courtyard, the Moorish garden and the marble Turkish baths whilst enjoying a cup of mint tea.

Le Marais
Le Marais owes its beautiful buildings of historic and architectural importance to its former inhabitants, the Parisian aristocracy. When they moved to a different district, Le Marais became home of Paris’ main Jewish community. Nowadays, Le Marais is one of Paris’ most popular districts, housing art galleries, fashion houses and uber trendy restaurants.

Sainte Chapelle
Everyone knows Notre Dame and Sacré Coeur, but Paris has a lot more beautiful churches that are well worth a visit. Sainte Chapelle is one of them. Located at Île de la Cité, this stunning structure is a prime example of ‘rayonnant’ Gothic architecture. Both interior and exterior will blow your mind, but the real show-stealers are without a doubt the huge stained glass windows.

Paris off the beaten trackButtes Chaumont
If you feel like getting out of the city crowd, why not head to a lovely public garden? With all its attractions, Parc des Buttes Chaumont is more than just a park. There are several cliffs and bridges, a huge waterfall, a lake and several beautiful gardens. An absolute must-see is the belvedere of Sybil, a Corinthian style monument, situated at the top of a 30 meter high rock.

Lapin Agile
If you’re looking for some entertainment and queuing for Moulin Rouge is not your idea of fun, a visit to the Lapin Agile might be just the thing for you. The Montmartre cabaret owes its fame to renowned artists like Picasso and Apollinaire. Sit down at a wooden table and enjoy a range of French songs, some dating back decades.

Buddhist Temple
Do you like surprises? Take a metro to Paris’ Chinatown! At the Avenue d’Ivry you’ll find the Buddhist temple L’Amicale des Teochews de France. Just around the corner is the beautiful decorated pagoda of the Temple de l’Association des Résidents d’Origine Indochinoise, which is hidden in an underground passage that looks like a parking garage entrance. The best things are found where you don’t expect them!

Catacombs
Deep down beneath the beautiful streets of the city, you can check out the remains of 6 million people in Paris’ catacombs. Based in the underground tunnels of what once were Paris’ stone mines, this unique museum is more than worth a visit, if you can deal with some smell and cold. Visits aren’t recommended for young children.

Paris off the beaten trackThe Passer-Through-Walls
In the Montmartre district, at Place Marcel Aymé, you’ll find a famous statue called Le Passe-Muraille (or The Passer-Through-Walls). The sculpture is based a short story of French novelist and cross-genre writer Marcel Aymé, about a man who discovers he can walk through walls. Definitely a must-see if you’re in the neighborhood.

Do yourself a favor on your next trip to Paris: leave the flocking to the sheep, and you’re bound to enjoy a different perspective of the city…you’re also less likely to get fleeced. One more thing – if you happen to pass boulangerie Paul on Rue Buci give a little wave – chances are I’ll be sitting outside sipping a frappe and trying to guess your nationality.

Pooping in the Christmas Manger – A Catalan Tradition

This was the first Christmas blog I ever posted – waaaaaay back in 2005….things were different then, this was a different blog, but it’s still a fun bit of Christmas!

Pooping in the Christmas mangerPooping in the manger. Okay…this is a Christmas tradition I can get behind. I love this. Here is an explanation for this strange Spanish Christmas custom from Wikipedia.

The Story Behind Pooping in the Manger

A Caganer is a little statue unique to Catalonia, and neighbouring areas with Catalan culture such as Andorra.

In Catalonia, as in most of Italy, South France and Spain, the traditional Christmas decoration is a large model of the city of Bethlehem, similar to American Nativity scenes that encompasses the entire city rather than just the typical manger scene. The Catalans have added an extra character that is not found in the manger scenes of any other culture. In addition to Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the Shepherds and company, Catalans have the character known as the Caganer. This extra little character is often tucked away in some corner of the model, typically nowhere near the manger scene, where he is not easily noticed. There is a good reason for his obscure position in the display, for “caganer” translates from Catalan to English as “defecator”, and that is exactly what this little statue is doing — defecating.

The reasons for placing a man who is in the act of excreting solid waste from his posterior in a scene which is widely considered holy are as follows:

  1. Just tradition.
  2. Scatological humor.
  3. Finding the Caganer is a fun game, especially for children.
  4. The Caganer, by creating feces, is fertilizing the Earth. However, this is probably an a posteriori explanation, and nobody would say they put the Caganer on the Nativity scene for this reason.
  5. The Caganer represents the equality of all people e.g. regardless of status, race, gender everyone defecates.

Pooping in the Christmas mangerThe exact origin of the Caganer is lost, but the tradition has existed since the 18th century. Originally, the Caganer was portrayed as a Catalan peasant wearing a traditional hat called a barretina — a red stocking hat with a black band.

The Catalans have modified this tradition somewhat since the 1940s. In addition to the traditional caganer design, you can easily find other characters assuming the caganer position, such as nuns, devils, Santa Claus, celebrities, athletes, historical figures, politicians, Spanish royalty, and other famous people past and present, including Pope John Paul II, Salvador Dalí, prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Princess Letizia and even Osama bin Laden.

The practice is tolerated by the local Catholic church. Caganers are easiest to find before Pooping in the Christmas mangerChristmas in holiday markets, like the one in front of the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia, which has tables and tables of caganers. Caganers have even been featured in art exhibits.

The caganer is not the only defecating character in the Catalan Christmas tradition—another is the Tió de Nadal, which also makes extensive use of the image of human waste production. Other mentions of feces and defecation are common in Catalan folklore. One popular Catalan phrase before eating says “menja bé, caga fort!” (Eat well, shit strong!).

How Not To Enjoy World Travel – Part 2

world travel tipsThis is the second part in an ongoing series about how to have the worst time possible during your world travels. Here is the link to part 1.

http://www.vagobond.com/how-not-to-enjoy-world-travel-part-1/

4. Don’t Read
To me, reading is an essential part of travel. As far as I’m concerned, if you are one of those people who ‘doesn’t like to read’ than you are one of those people who should stay home and not travel.

Don’t read anything about the country of place you are going to. That way you won’t understand the culture, the traditions, the history, the climate, or anything else. You will be able to have a completely one dimensional experience. If you should read, for example, about how it is rude to point the bottoms of your feet at someone in Thailand, then you’ll miss out on the ass kicking that results when the kick-boxer tells you to stop pointing your feet at him and you continue to do it. You wouldn’t want to miss that.

Or if you read, you might feel compelled to go fifteen kilometers out of your way on the way between Seattle, Washingon and Vancouver, British Columbia and visit the remote and gorgeous Scenic Hot Springs. Wouldn’t that suck?

Don’t read on your trip. Don’t discover that Mark Twain stayed in the same hotel you are visiting in Honolulu (The Moana Surfrider) or that the lovely looking picnic spot in Cebu, Philippines is where Lapu Lapu ate a famous explorer. Who needs to know details like that?

Don’t read when you are stuck at the airport. It’s much better to just sit and get angry at the workers or eat overpriced food. Don’t read at the beach because it’s much better to sit there wondering what to do now that you are done swimming.

Yes, if you don’t want to enjoy world travel, it is essential that you not read.

world travel tips5) Don’t talk to anyone unless you have to

If you want to have horrible and meaningless travels, don’t talk to anyone unless you have to. Don’t talk to the man next to you on the airplane or bus, he might be a Chinese businessman who would invite you to visit his home and stay with his family.

Don’t talk to the guy who works at the hotel unless you need towels or directions. If he thinks “Hey, this is a nice person” he might actually tell you someplace that he doesn’t recommend to every other rude tourist. You might end up going to a tiny temple in Penang, Malaysia instead of going to the big one that has eighteen tourist buses outside it.

Don’t talk to people in the street. They might try to sell you something. They might want to practice English with you. They might want to share a bit of their culture or learn something about yours. Wow, wouldn’t it be a bummer if that Indonesian guy learned that the USA is not just like Bay Watch and Jerry Springer? Don’t talk to him.

If you want to NOT enjoy your travels, do not talk unless you need something.

world travel tips6) Don’t learn any of the local language

Finally, if you want to be absolutely certain that you don’t enjoy your world travel, pretend your a British Colonist and refuse to speak the local language.

Don’t say Tarima Kasih in Indonesia, don’t ask where to get the gonggongcheecha in China, don’t say Yvet in Turkey, don’t show the grocer in Barcelona you can understand the uno, dos, tres, don’t speak French in Paris (I found Parisians to be very gracious about my bad French), don’t say shukran in Morocco, kapcun kap in Thailand, daijobu in Japan, bollacks in England, dude in California, wienerschnitzel in Germany, or Mahalo in Hawaii.

Speaking the language encourages people to learn about you, to teach about their culture, to make friends, to have relationships, to even fall in love. There is nothing miserable about any of that. So if you want to Not enjoy the world of travel…don’t speak the local language.
Got more tips about how to NOT enjoy world travel, why not leave a comment below or send your tips to me using the contact form.

Sleeping with Ghosts – London’s Georgian House Hotel

Back in 2012, I was in London, England for the World Travel Market. At the time I was fortunate to be doing a lot of international travel to places like Egypt, Spain, and the Balkans. I determined that I wasn’t going to stay anywhere that wasn’t extraordinary in some way. I found some incredible places – a houseboat on the Thames, an incredibly luxurious hotel with a 007 theme, and a Victorian era house converted into a hotel that is reliably reported as being haunted. For that one, I have to give credit to my friend Matthew, who made the recommendation for me. I’ve heard that since that time, Georgian House has turned into a Harry Potter themed hotel! I may have to go back.

I’m very happy to re-share the story of the Georgian House Hotel.

Haunted Hospitality at an incredibly good price!

Georgian HouseThe building that houses the Georgian House Hotel dates back to the mid 19th century and has a certain elegant and timeless feel to it. I would imagine it was haunted even if I didn’t know it only because all of old London feels like a scary old horror film to me. Don’t misunderstand me though – it’s lovely and well maintained.

Since I was there at one of the busier times of the year, most hotels were charging a minimum of a few hundred GBP per night for a room, but I was extremely surprised to find that I could stay at Georgian House for just 69 GBP per night for a room that didn’t have a toilet ensuite. It had a sink, coffee service, TV, internet, and a very comfy bed, but the toilet and shower were two steps out the door across the hallway.  Incredibly convenient even if I had to open my door and the price – magnificent.

My favorite part of the Georgian House Hotel? The breakfast. While there is a buffet, the breakfast menu is cooked to order. Eggs Benedict, salmon and cream cheese bagel – yeah – that’s my kind of place.

Georgian HouseI was lucky to come back after an open house and got to drink champagne with the staff and owner, Serena one night. They told stories about the ghosts and I got to learn that the building had been in Serena’s family for a long time.

As for the ghosts…the house  is haunted by several ghosts, including that of an unknown man who has been seen in one the basement staff rooms.  Serena said that the staffer woke with the man sitting on the end of her bed but then he got up and walked out. The staffer came down asking who had come in her room the night before but found out that she had the only key and the door was locked.

Whether or not this is the same ghostly figure that has been seen in the kitchen and one of the top floor bedrooms (#11 if you dare) is unknown.

Georgian HouseSuffice it to say he, or they, are harmless spirits who are more than content to appear for a few fleeting moments and then be gone as they go about  their business. Serena has no idea who they might be since the houses were formerly apartments and they no longer have the records for who lived there.

The ghosts of two children have also been seen flitting about the upper floors. They first appeared when a guest on the next floor down came to reception to complain about the noisy children playing above him. On that night, there were no guests on the top floor!  On another occasion Serena says that she spoke to them when they appeared and assured them that they were welcome to visit on the upper floors only. Sadly, they didn’t show while I was there.  I would have liked to have seen them.

This is a lovely old hotel in central London, not too far from Queen Charlotte Station and a nice walk away from many of the major sites. In addition to the basic rooms on the top floor, there doubles with ensuite, and apartments for families. I highly recommend this lovely old hotel – ghosts and all.

To book a room, you can visit http://www.georgianhousehotel.co.uk/. Tell them Vago sent you to see the ghosts.

Arriving in Rome – Scaring the Indians

Colleseuem in RomeI arrived around 10 pm and as usual, I had no idea where I was going to stay, but I figured Rome would be pretty easy to find a place to stay in. I had met an Argentine backpacker named Josephina on the plane and she asked if I was heading to the center called Termini. That was actually all that I had planned. She spoke no English and my Spanish is terrible, but we somehow found the cheap bus to Termini and she indicated she was going to a hostel and I should check it out. I agreed. The Rome Airport Shuttle took us to Termini for 15 Euro each.

Once at Termini we used the maps and addresses she had printed out to wander around the dark streets of Rome around midnight looking for a hostel. Finally, after asking a half dozen very friendly Romans who spoke neither Spanish or English, we found it. Josephina was in, but as for me and the Indian guys who had been leaving when we arrived, there was no room for us. After a few minutes, the clerk told me “I’m sorry, we have no room, but follow those Indian guys that left a few minutes ago, I sent them to our other hostel, just go out and go right and follow them.”

I said goodbye to Josphina and ran out the door. The Indian guys were already well down the street and so I ran to catch up. Not wanting to scare them, I began to shout as I got closer and had exactly the opposite effect since after all it was 1 am in the rough streets around Termini station and a madman they didn’t know was running at them and shouting “Hey, are you the Indian guys? Do you speak English?”

The two of them split apart and began to run in opposite directions!!!! Stuck between the desire to feel bad for scaring them and the desire to laugh as they reacted just as the lovable guys in Bollywood films would have, I stopped and shouted “The guy from the hostel told me to follow you, he has no more room.”

They both stopped and we trudged down the streets and into the darkness together, a strange trio looking for a place to sleep. Eventually, we found a room for the three of us to share, we went out for a late night beer and some pizza, and we all became friends.

The important part was that I had arrived in Rome. The funny part was that I was sharing a room with two Indian guys I scared the crap out of by chasing them down the streets at 1 am. Here is a fun little slideshow of a few things I saw in Rome over the next few days…

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Pernik, Bulgaria – A Brisk winter Walk – #saturdayslideshow

Pernik BulgariaTravel to the places that don’t make it into most magazines or guidebooks is usually much more interesting and exciting than reading about Bali or Boracay from yet another person who has ‘discovered it’. Certainly I didn’t discover Pernik, but it was a pleasure to get to see it in this way.

We woke up bright and early to go up into the forest with my friend Borislav’s grandfather. He was much more bright eyed than either of us, but one thing I figured out quickly is that Balkan people can drink all day and all night and seem to not suffer from it at all. And they usually seem to start the day with a shot of schnapps.

As for me, I usually suffer if I drink the night before. The sidewalk was icy and it was C-O-L-D but that didn’t stop this 80+ year old man from being the first one down the street, the first one up the hill, and the first one to wherever he was leading us. To be fair though, usually the one doing the leading should go first.

He led us past the nuclear reactors and over the river and then past this amazing testosterone driven machine where the testosterone apparently gave out with a flat tire. Then we crossed the road and went up among the gypsy houses and gypsy dogs.

Now, let me be honest here. These were very kind, simple, and humble people. Their apartment was anything but luxurious but filled their needs. That’s why when we got to the massive house they live in during the summer, I was so surprised. It was gorgeous. Decorated like a boutique hotel, each room different with a different flavor. In the basement, the canned preserves, the still, and the big vats of wine just sitting and waiting to be poured into old coke bottles.

The weather was turning worse, we took a winding path through trees and down icy trails and no one fell but if they had I would have remembered Katya telling me that the funniest thing in the world is the confused look on people’s face when they realized they are no longer standing up. Even if it was me.

Finally, our historic guide decided to go back home where it was warm and asked Borislav to complete the tour by showing me the various monuments and statues in the town of Pernik. In fact, we did see those but given the blue faces we had, we deemed it best to duck into a cafe and grab some coffee.

We did manage to see the old church, the statue of the town protector, the old mining building, and some other statues and monuments that the cold weather made impossible for me to remember.

After that we went back to his grandparents for lunch with his aunt and while there was some rakia, I avoided getting so much of the hospitality of these wonderful people this time that my head would feel like it might explode.

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