I’m baaaack! And what a trip it was! Spain surprised me in the best way; I didn’t know what to expect, despite everyone I know who’d been there swearing it was gorgeous and amazing and I’d love it. Our itinerary was kind of a whirlwind, but we got to see so much of the country and so many charming cities I wouldn’t change a thing. We arrived in Madrid last Sunday, drove north to San Sebastián on the coast on Tuesday, east to Pamplona on Thursday, Zaragoza on Friday, and finally to Barcelona on Saturday, where we stayed until this past Wednesday. Jamal did all the driving (stick shift!) and I served as our chief navigator and entertainment coordinator, the former made possible by the pocket wifi we rented before our trip, which turned out to be indispensable. We only just got the hang of Spanish before we entered Basque country to the north, where they speak a completely indecipherable language native only to that region. And once we felt comfortable with Basque, we headed off to Barcelona, where the Catalan accents threw us off again. By default, I kept lapsing into French, and for some reason couldn’t stop wanting to say, “Ciao!” to everyone when we left restaurants and shops. Oy. Fun fact, our lisping th‘s got a lot better after a big gin & tonic, the unofficial drink of the entire country (or so it seemed. They’re everywhere, and they’re gigantic and cheap!).
Long story short, we loved Spain. The people were so friendly and helpful and patient (you can tell I’ve been to France too often when this sticks out), the architecture was astoundingly beautiful, the jamon iberico was abundant and inexpensive, the weather was a dream. Sure, by the last few days we were both saying we needed a vacation from our vacation, but really, isn’t that the best possible complaint?
I have about 375 photos to sort through and edit, so I thought I’d start small and post one from each of the five cities we visited for today’s Friday Five, just to whet your appetite. You can catch up on Instagram with the hashtag #likewantneedespaña.
2. San Sebastián
I’ll be back on Monday with more photos from Madrid! Have a great weekend, kiddos!
Now, what have you been up to? I’ve missed you!
Believe it or not (and I’m having a hard time buying it myself), Jamal and I head to Spain on Saturday! I mentioned it only briefly last year, when we booked our flights, using Jamal’s seemingly endless supply of airline miles, making our two roundtrip direct flights free. Since then, you’d’ve hardly been blamed for forgetting, as I’ve taken two trips to Paris since then and have inundated you with nothing but Paris photos. But despite the half-packed state of my suitcase, our plane leaves for España in two short days! We are flying into Madrid and out of Barcelona 11 days later, and driving to San Sebastian, Pamplona, and Zaragoza in the middle. To say we are stoked would be an understatement. This will be the longest stretch of uninterrupted time Jamal and I will have spent together since our trip to Italy last May. Oy.
Along with airline miles, Jamal also accumulates a ton of hotel points, so we took advantage of them for this trip. Above is our hotel in Madrid, Vincci The Mint, a short walk from Plaza Mayor, The Royal Palace, The Prado, and El Retiro park. Fingers crossed for a room with a balcony! Not that we’re planning on doing anything besides walking for three straight days, let alone something as indulgent as sitting on a balcony. (We average 20k steps a day on vacation according my pedometer!)
In Barcelona, we are staying at the Cotton House Hotel, located just off the Passeig de Gracia (a huge shopping street!) between the Picasso Museum and the Sagrada Familia.
Wasting away an afternoon that gorgeous library bar is going to be a very tempting proposition. (So will the Louis Vuitton boutique around the corner. Jamal, you have been warned!)
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a very important brunch date with this gorgeous gal and then I really need to finish packing or the only places we’ll be going in Spain will be nude beaches.
After I got home from Paris, where I carried my camera (my full frame Canon 6d with my 50mm lens) absolutely everywhere as I do on vacation, I remembered how much I love photography. I have a degree in it, after all, but it’s nice to be reminded by constant use how genuinely happy it makes me. But when I’m not in Paris, or on vacation, I tend not to even touch my camera. It sits on my desk unless I have a blog project or I feel like giving Fitz a glamour photoshoot. And that’s sad. I love my 6d! It’s kind of the Goldilocks of full frame DSLRs: not too big, not too heavy, not too expensive (it’s come way down in price since I bought it!). But in terms of portability, it is still a commitment to carry around with me. If I want to head to a café with my laptop and write for a few hours, I am not going to also schlep my camera. If I have to carry groceries home from Trader Joe’s, I know I’m not going to feel like stopping and photographing anything.
For years before I got my first DSLR, I relied on Canon PowerShots. My dad would buy one, upgrade, and then give me his older one. I love Canons. The old DigitalElphs were workhorses, and I loved their compactness; my dad could slip his in his shirt pocket and forget it was even there. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me sooner to go back to roots, so to speak.
So after about a week of research, scouring review sites and trolling through Flickr’s Camera Explorer page (the neatest resource!) I bought a new toy! I went with the Canon G9X, a 20mp compact p&s with a 1 in sensor. The only thing it doesn’t have is a viewfinder, which has bothered me less so far than I thought it would. It shoots raw, but has pretty incredible jpgs straight out of the camera. It isn’t going to fully replace my beloved 6d, and I can’t see myself going on vacation or somewhere really important and not bringing my big camera, relying solely on this little point and shoot. But it has already changed the way I shoot around my own city and day-to-day life in a major way: I actually carry it around with me. It’s so light and small I can tuck it in a small zip pouch and bring it everywhere I go, without having to choose a purse with enough interior room to accommodate my hulking DSLR. It’s also much more discreet, due to its size, and I don’t feel too self-conscious taking photos of my latte now. Priorities.
Here are just a few photos from my everyday so far with my new baby.
Spring was making a slow crawl into the city while we were there. Buds were appearing on trees, but most remained bare, stark and beautiful in their own way. We wandered Saint-Germain, had lunch at Angelina, went to the Louvre (where we were briefly separated in the throngs and where my mom was sufficiently underwhelmed by the Mona Lisa again), and made a special pilgrimage to E. Dehillerin, the storied kitchen supply superstore where Julia Child loved to shop. Since I can barely find my way around a pot of boiling water, I stood near the entrance and struck up a conversation with a lovely woman from Arizona, whose husband was as starry eyed in the narrow, dusty aisles as my mom was. She and her husband had been coming for the past nine years; now in their late 60s, they were both retired. “We just wish we figured out how much we loved Paris when we were younger,” the woman told me, as her husband oohed and aahed over copper spoons and pie molds. “You’re lucky,” she said, “to have been here so often already, so young.”
And she’s right. I am so lucky.
And with that, we conclude the Paris photos from this vacation. I will spend the next however-many months until my next trip to this great city (because there will be another) staring at that last photo, taken right outside my favorite boulangerie as the sun was beginning its showy descent. I’ve never met a lens flare I didn’t like, and as we stepped out after enjoying a late afternoon tea & chocolate gateau (#vacation), I reached for my camera, and then headed right into the light, full of hope and cake. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere, I’m just sure of it.
The two little islands nestled in the middle of the Seine have to be some of my favorite pieces of real estate in the entire city. Each arrondissement has the overwhelming feeling of being a tiny island in the middle of a big city already, a self-sufficient ecosystem providing everything you’d ever need within its boundaries (my old neighbor on Cité Veron had lived in the same building for close to 30 years, and never really felt the need to leave Montmartre, he said, save for the rare occasion). The two îles have the same sense of being a self-contained world, on a much more heightened scale. And maybe not so much the Île de la Cité, but absolutely the Île Saint-Louis. The architecture is different, the streets are smaller, and while there is no metro stop and only one bus route, walking laps around the island makes you realize there might not ever be a need to cross one of the ponts back to the other sides of the Seine. There are cheese shops and butchers and fleuristes and, seemingly most importantly, the Café Saint Régis, where I had the pleasure of having brunch with my dad’s friend John and his lovely wife one morning. My mom was so taken with the food we went back for lunch two days later, and we both agreed, as we stuffed ourselves silly, that we could easily live there. Not just in Paris, but specifically in the café. We could pitch tents and live there without a complaint in the world.
In my continued effort to not shy away from photographing people (and, er, ducks!), at lunch I snapped what may be one of my favorite photos: a man reading a book at the bar. I could start a series of French men (1) reading in restaurants (2) by themselves (3). What a hardship that undertaking would be!
1. This combination of light and lattice that makes my heart go boom:
(That lens flare ain’t Photoshopped, either.)
2. I have this thing with doors:
That something as simple as a door could be so elegantly designed just because is just one of the many reasons I love this city.
3. Looking up from the gardens of the Musée Rodin, admiring the view:
As if there isn’t enough to marvel over in the actual museum gardens, the periphery has to be lined with classically lovely Parisian architecture, too.
4. This decadent dessert that was almost (almost!) too pretty to eat:
My mom and I splashed out one afternoon, and I treated us to tea and dessert at the Plaza Athénée. (You know, the hotel where Carrie stayed with The Russian.) And then because we hadn’t indulged enough, we went across the street to Louis Vuitton. As you do.
5. The best way to spend €7, as far as I’m concerned:
Why can’t there be more flower shops in Philadelphia? Rue Cler has about four in two blocks, and every bouquet is affordable, to boot.
Have a wonderful weekend, kiddos! For those of you sick of seeing Paris photos, I’m almost done, I promise!
It’s not that I don’t like Le Marais, but it isn’t a neighborhood I’ve spent a lot of time in, so I’m not overly familiar. I like that it feels different from the rest of the city; there are fewer grand Haussmann buildings here, and the streets feel older, more historic and medieval. But if I’m being honest, I never feel a pull towards the 3eme the way I do with other neighborhoods. Our macaron making class was held at La Cuisine Paris, right along the Quai de l’Hôtel de Ville, so it made sense for us to spend the morning and early afternoon in the quartrier. My mom was disappointed that in the 16 years since her last visit, the last remaining vestiges of what was once the true “Jewish quarter” have all but disappeared, save for a few bakeries and falafel shops along Rue des Rosiers. Doors with ancient mezuzahs still affixed to the door frame, or stars of David carved over the entry had long ago been turned into clothing stores. We had falafel for lunch and strolled through the Place des Vosges, fighting off the bitter cold of this particular day.
The macaron class itself was the highlight of the day, though. All of the classes at La Cuisine Paris are taught in English, and ours was led by a French pastry chef (Romain, a total dreamboat) who had worked at both Ladurée and Pierre Hermé. There were only eight of us in the class, which made instructions easier to follow and everything more hands-on, and the two hours flew by in a whirlwind of boiling sugar, powdered food coloring, and my inability to remember directions clearly resulting in one giant macaron shell on my silpat (two inches apart, merde!). Having survived the course (with edible results!), I can safely say there is a reason macarons are so expensive; that is not an undertaking for the timid, unskilled, or impatient. Mon dieu. Don’t let me deter you, though! It was such a fun experience and I want to do it all over again with Jamal the next time we go, because I know he’ll excel at it. And ladies, if there is anything sexier than your man making macarons for you in Paris, I don’t know what it is.
Oh! Did you know the French created a verb specifically to describe the function of folding the meringue/boiling sugar/food coloring mixture into the almond flour? It’s macaronage, and it’s one more reason I love the French language, even if my own macaronage skills could use more work (my wrists get all floppy the moment I hold a spatula, likely from fear).
The light in this town is going to give me a heart attack one day. I’d round a corner, or come up from the metro, or it would be overcast all morning and then: LIGHT. Glorious, blanketing, hazy, early-Spring sunlight, so different from the light in June or December. I can’t help but gasp every time I see a sun-soaked street, or the light filtering through the Eiffel Tower. I’m worried one day it will all be too overwhelming, and I won’t be able to take it, and my heart is just going to burst. Death by Paris.
We went to four museums this trip: the l’Orangerie and the d’Orsay in the same evening (the latter is open until 10pm on Thursdays, and they are directly across the river from each other), the Rodin the next morning, and the Louvre later in the trip. We struggled with how much to do, because it was so tempting to just sit in the Tuileries all night and stare into space, or linger too long at a café. The Parisians are so good at balance; it’s one of their skills among many that I’d love to steal. Sure, you have places to go and things to see. But the light is so gorgeous right now, maybe you should stay to enjoy it just a while longer. Pourquoi pas?
The siren call of my old neighborhood became impossible to resist after only one day.
So I gave in, and we took the 80 bus from the 7eme to Place de Clichy. In terms of favorite bus routes, the 80 is my favorite. It snakes all the way up to Montmartre from the left bank, taking the swanky Avenue Montaigne, around the 8eme, past Saint-Lazare, and all the way up to my little village on the hill via Rue Caulaincourt. Between that route and the 95, which plops you more centrally in Saint-Germain, I could get anywhere I needed to go when I lived there. I like the buses more than the metro; the metro is generally more efficient, and, given Parisian traffic, undoubtedly faster, but you get to see the city from the bus. And there is nothing like taking the 80 south and crossing the Pont de l’Alma and seeing the Eiffel Tower from your seat. Like, pop! There she is!
So we went to Montmartre, and walked and walked and walked. Because that is what you do there. You climb the winding, steep streets, you make your way to the top of Sacré-Cœur to take in the view. We stopped in the church itself (something I admittedly hadn’t done in years) and got to hear mass in about six different languages (the priest switched from Spanish, to French, to Italian, to Hebrew, to Arabic while we made our way around the periphery of the monument). We rewarded ourselves with lunch at Le Nazir, my favorite salad with a poached egg and copious lardons and baked wheels of goat cheese thankfully unchanged. I showed my mom my old apartment, giving my sweet little balcony a wistful wave from the street.
On our way to Ladurée near Madeline (we took the metro) my mom said to me, “I can see why you love it. It’s a fabulous neighborhood.” And it so is. And not just because you get an impressive thigh workout just from exploring, either. That little pocket of the lower part of la butte was my home, and will be again one day, too.
Oh, this city. Every time I come I find new things to fall in love with, new angles to photograph, new perspectives and changes in light that thrill my heart to no end. There is something calming about returning, almost as if everything up to the moment just before the wheels of the plane touch down on French soil had been a little off balance, and with each trip back my equilibrium is restored. Walking the streets, getting acquainted with our new neighborhood (even as jetlagged as we were the first day) I felt a warming comfort, a homecoming as visceral as ever. The nervous, fluttering excitement that precedes a trip had been replaced long, long ago with a sense of rightness, of feeling whole again. My French came back to me fluidly, like riding a bike.
What else? I took significantly fewer photos this trip than I have previously, in an effort to be more present and soak it all in out from behind my viewfinder. I still took hundreds of photos, though, but this time I didn’t worry about making sure I got every single shot. I took a lot more photos of people, too! More to share this week.
I missed you guys! Tell me, what’s been going on?