We heard the news after we got back from the fireworks. We probably would have gone to bed and slept in ignorance until the morning, but Hugo gets news alerts on his phone.
On Friday, there was an outpouring of shock and grief over the attack in Nice on social media. But at least in Lyon, there doesn’t seem to be a public space of tribute and mourning, like there was after the Paris attacks, where people leave flowers and messages. The public reaction is different this time. Maybe it’s because the possibility of more attacks has been hovering in the background, especially during the Eurocup. But that doesn’t diminish the magnitude of this tragedy.
I dug up my old photos of Nice. I haven’t been there since 2012. I thought it was only two years ago, but then I did the math. I meant to go back this summer, but time is short. (By “short” I mean “hurtling along at rogue rocket speed.”)
I’ll tell you right off the bat – I don’t really care for Renaissance art. I’m mostly interested in art from the last two centuries or so. The Renaissance is just not my style. I know, I know, I’m a barbarian. But the art just seemed so repetitive and boring – Madonna and child, Madonna and child, Madonna and an even fatter child, portrait of rich person, portrait of rich person, portrait of ugly rich person, fat cherubs, biblical scenes, blah blah blah.
I wasn’t even going to visit the Uffizzi, but people looked at me the way you look at someone who tells you they don’t like crême brûlée. (Like a crazy person.) So I changed my mind.
I met two badass girls in Rome named Leah and Stella. Leah said that she felt the same way about Renaissance art, but that the Uffizzi was still something to see. She gave me a couple really helpful tips which made my four hours at the museum (yes, four hours!) go smoothly.
I took the bus to Florence because it’s cheaper, and it’s only three hours from Rome which doesn’t feel long anymore. It was hot in Rome but the storm was just starting to break as I left the bus station in Florence. The men who peddle umbrellas and those colorful plastic bag ponchos seized the opportunity to pounce on anyone caught in the rain unprotected.
Hi! I’m in Italy! I’ve been eating my way through Rome, Florence, and Bologna and I’m exhausted! I haven’t spent much time in Italy in the last ten years (with the except of a January weekend getaway to Turin) and it’s been so much fun to be here. I love having a morning espresso standing up at the counter and trying to speak Italian.
Each city had its own distinct vibe – I couldn’t tell you which was my favorite. I fell in love with the Monti neighborhood in Rome but was overwhelmed by the tourist hordes elsewhere in the city. Florence had its own tourist crowd but it was easier to escape the city center, so it didn’t feel as suffocating. I loved finding little spots for cheap eats, and visiting a few major attractions (they lived up to the hype).
Bologna was the perfect antidote after a week in cities occupied by tourists – it’s a city of locals, gritty, delicious, Italian. I had the best pasta of my life and people actually gave me the chance to speak the little Italian I know. In Florence, everyone in the city center spoke English right off the bat without bothering to find out if you spoke Italian or not, which I found incredibly irritating. We’re in Italy, at least let me try to practice what Duolingo and Bellini taught me!
I’ve been keeping some notes along the way in hopes of writing a more thorough blogging account once I’m back in Lyon. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with everything I have to say, or just with life in general, and I don’t get around to blogging about everything I’d like to. Let’s see if I can catch up this summer, shall we?
I hope your summer is off to a good start, wherever you are!
The good thing about #slowblogging is that the buzz of the trip has died down in my mind, and the highlights stand out against the blur of my memory. I don’t remember why I wasn’t excited about visiting San Sebastian when I planned my trip to Spanish Basque Country, but I am glad that I decided to stay two nights instead of making it a lightning-quick trip from Bilbao.
Fun fact: Cassis the town is pronounced without the final s, ca-see, unlike the liqueur that goes in a kir, Crème de Cassis, which is pronounced ca-cease and comes from Dijon, not Cassis, oddly enough.
I didn’t love Cassis as much as I thought I would, but I didn’t not love it either. I’d wanted to go for awhile, but good heavens not in the summer (too crowded) or the winter (too cold! need beach!) Instead, I grabbed the chance to go in September. I spent one lovely day there… and that was enough for me.
Barcelona. I don’t even know where to begin. Have you been to this city before? It is vibrant and beautiful and unique, and whether you spend the whole time at the beach, tour all of Gaudi’s famous works, or just eat your way through the city, there are many ways to pass the time in Barcelona.
Going in, I knew that Catalonia was a distinct region of Spain, and I’ve even heard it said that “Barcelona isn’t Spain.” Most storefronts are labeled in Catalan (I quickly figured out that “rebaixes” means “We’re having a sale!”) and public signs are usually written in Catalan and Spanish (or “Castellano” as I think we’re supposed to say, right?) and sometimes in English as well.
I had expected to hear mainly Catalan, which is the primary local language (so I thought), but in fact Spanish (erm, Castellano) was much more prevalent than I expected. I wish I had brushed up on my high school Spanish (my high school Castellano?) a little more instead of trying to memorize Catalan phrases!
[One weird thing I did notice – it seems the most common greeting was “Hola” but the most common way to say goodbye was “Adéu,” which is Catalan. What’s up with that?]
Local pride is evident: Catalan flags hang off balconies on every street.
In some neighborhoods, political messages are pasted onto walls, proclaiming that Catalonia should be independent from Spain and the E.U. That’s a can of worms I’m not inclined to crack open.
Tourism is thriving in Barcelona (to the chagrin of many locals – see above), and I loved hearing a swirl of languages everywhere I went. English, Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, Italian, German, Danish, French – good lord were there a lot of French people in Barcelona! (Geographically, it makes sense – I suppose the French are the only people who can easily drive to Barcelona. Besides the Spanish, that is.)
Not everyone’s a fan of Barcelona – have you heard that too? I didn’t know how I would like it, and it wasn’t even at the top of my European destinations list (Lisbon was, and then Italy. Yes, ALL OF ITALY.) But despite all these rumors about cheap European airfare (where? WHERE?!) the only place I could fly for under 100 euros with a couple weeks notice was Barcelona. So off I went.
And if you haven’t guessed by now, I loved it.
I loved the beautiful streets and alleyways and the architecture…
I loved the street art…
I loved the beach. Yes, it was crowded! Yes, everyone was half-naked (or all naked) and yes, you’d better not turn your back on your stuff if you want to keep it. But the Mediterranean – is there anything like it? The water was perfect.
I loved Barcelona’s own Arc de Triomphe (how many cities have one of these things?)
And I looooved indulging in sweet treats.
Of course, you can’t go to Barcelona without seeing a little Gaudi… (Seriously, you can’t. Even if you don’t want to. He’s unavoidable.)
And Montjuic and its nighttime fountain show were favorites of mine.
But as is often the case with me, my very favorite thing to do was just wander the streets.
In fact, on my first day, I walked about eight or nine kilometers, and on the second, I logged another six or seven. That’s between nine or ten miles in two days, in sandals (and not those fancy sandals with arch support. Mom was right – I need better shoes.) It may not sound like a lot to you athletic people, but for un-athletic me in improper footwear, it was a bad, bad idea. I was in pain for the rest of the week. I think Barcelona has exceptionally hard sidewalks or something. I don’t know why I didn’t just take the metro!
Here are a few more snapshots from my wanderings in this lovely city:
Watch out, Barcelona. I’ll be back.
Have you been to Barcelona? Did you love it or hate it?
Not everyone understands traveling alone. When I announced I was going to Barcelona by myself, I ended up on the receiving end of some raised eyebrows and confused looks.
“So you’re just going… by yourself?”
Um… yeah! I am. I like being alone. Not in a recluse-I-hate-the-world I-hate-other-people kind of way. I like people! But there’s a certain calm about being alone. Not only does it not bother me to be alone, I need to be alone sometimes. I get cranky without my alone time.
Can you tell I’m an introvert?
Introversion aside, I love the freedom of traveling alone. I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. Isn’t that nice sometimes? It’s so indulgent to do exactly what you want for an entire day (or week) and not have to worry about anyone else. (No, I don’t have kids.)
And in fact, if you aren’t able to go places by yourself, whether it’s taking a trip or just trying out a new restaurant or seeing a movie, that means you depend on others to do what you want to do. If you don’t go see a movie just because no one wants to see it with you? If you don’t eat at the restaurant you’re craving just because your friends already have plans? What do you do? Just stay home because you can’t go out by yourself?
When I was twenty, I moved to Chicago to finish music school. At the beginning of the school year, I wanted to go to the opera (the Chicago Lyric Opera is amazing) but I didn’t have anyone to go with. I thought about just staying home. But finally, I put on my favorite dress and went alone, and it was one of my all-time favorite nights at the opera. Through the Lyric’s student tickets program, I got a great seat in the dress circle (maybe because I was only buying one ticket?) and saw Deborah Voigt and Christine Brewer sing in a spectacular production of Die Frau Ohne Schatten. If you’re not an opera fan, that probably sounds like gibberish, but trust me, it was magical. And if I hadn’t had the guts to go by myself, I would have missed one of the best opera productions I’ve ever seen.
Anyway, from that time on, I’ve always done the things I really wanted to do, whether or not I had company. On my first trip to France, I rolled through the Côte d’Azur on my own and fell in love with Nice.
A few years later I moved to Paris, where I didn’t know anybody. I made friends quickly, but solo strolls in Paris are still one of my favorite things.
This summer, I spent a week solo in Barcelona. As I explained to skeptics, it seemed silly to not go just because there was no one to go with me. And as it turns out, I had an amazing time. All. By. My. Self.
All that being said, there are some things that are just more fun in good company. Picnics in the park? Hitting the town for an evening out? Not so awesome when you’re alone, in my opinion. I don’t want to go to the Seine at sunset and open up a bottle of wine by myself. I go with my dog, of course. (Kidding, kidding.)
Do you like to do things alone, or do you find it boring? Would you judge me for eating cream-filled chocolate-covered doughnuts for breakfast?