Thursday, June 26, 2014


Where am I going? What?? Not to my most beloved Sorede? Or Barcelona? Or some such typical June destination?

It's like this: I thought about this trip all winter long. I knew it would be solo. I knew it would be late June/early July and so the crowds in the south would be thick with vacationers. Besides, my memories of Sorede -- four years in a row! -- are with Ed by my side. I don't want to spend time recalling and comparing. I want something new. And tame. And quiet. Meditative.

So let's take it one step at a time: yes, the connection from Minneapolis to Paris is more than an hour late. We all assume that it is because of the air traffic controller strike in France. Not so. Apparently a car ran into the plane that was to come (!?) and so at the last minute there was a change of airplanes and hence the delay.

No matter. I can take a slight delay. Goodbye Minneapolis, where my daughter now lives (but she's gone for a honeymoon trip with her beloved)...


I settle in for a terrific flight: smooth, effortless and because I am so tired from this past month's activities, for the first time in a long time, I log in real sleep hours over the ocean. Consequently, I arrive in Europe almost refreshed! (Almost. Let's not push how much rest you can pick up in some three or four hours of sleep.)

And now I am in Paris. If you had two summer hours in this city (and were burdened with a carryon suitcase and a backpack) what would you do? Would you go straight to the train station and wait for your next leg of the journey?

No you would not. You would perhaps, like me, stay on the train from the airport, past the station, all the way to the stop that is the Luxembourg Gardens.

It is a lovely, warm day -- the likes of which I haven't seen for a while here.


No, I don't pause for long. I want the quick high that comes from just seeing the gardens...


... but I also want food.

I leave the gardens and walk the familiar neighborhood where I usually stay. You'd think nothing would have changed since my last pop in here just a few months back. Not true! My favorite cafe where I was thinking of grabbing a coffee (Les Editeurs) is torn down. I haven't a clue as to why. No matter. It's not as if there is a shortage of cafes in Paris.

My first stop then is at the bakery: I want to grab a quiche for the 3.5 hour train ride I have before me. This one!


Okay, but I still want coffee. I meander down to Cafe Le Buci -- memorable for me from one very early morning stop there. It's more crowded now, of course. Everything seems more crowded now. In June, Parisians, not yet vacationing, have to share their city with the millions who, like me, come here to get that infusion of urban beauty.

I find a spot by the bar counter. A grade creme coffee, please. Oh, there are croissants still? (It's after 2 p.m.). Irresistible. I tell myself  I'll just eat part of one.

I eat the whole thing.


Monsieur, standing next to me watches with amusement. Am I arriving? Departing? -- he asks with some curiosity.
Traveling, I answer.
He  nods. You need strength for that heavy pack. He gives my arm muscle a squeeze. He's not flirting. The bar is a place for friendly banter. He is bantering. If not with me, then with the staff behind the counter.


As I leave he tells me -- welcome to Paris. Or, if you're leaving, then happy travels.

Well I'm both, aren't I?

I catch the metro to the station, where the intercity Thalys train is just opening its doors.


It's a superb piece of locomotion that in just a short time will wizz you to Brussels, then to Rotterdam, then to Amsterdam. I"m heading toward Amsterdam in my slow meander to northern Europe. And when I was purchasing my ticket (on line, in the States), there was a sale on first class fares -- causing them to be quite the same as second class. I grabbed. And because this train wants to compete with airlines (why anyone would fly or drive when they can take this rapid and supremely comfortable and not that expensive if purchased in advance train is beyond me), I see that they serve wines, sandwiches, cakes and bowls of cherries -- all included in the price of the ticket.

Not surprisingly, the train is full.

Not surprisingly, I am full.

We arrive in Amsterdam in early evening and because it's June and I'm north, there is plenty of light still before me.

In my younger years, Amsterdam was the city that linked me with the States. All my travels between Warsaw and the U.S., including my very first solo international trip at age 18, to fulfill my au pair obligations in New York, were through Amsterdam. (It was a matter of airlines: KLM offered the best fares from Warsaw back then.) So I have a rather peculiar take on the place. Nearly every stay here has been alone. I grew used to it. Barely an adult, I'd research places to eat, villages to pop into, concerts to attend, museums to explore. All of it alone. There I would sit -- in an Indonesian restaurant offering 30 courses of exotic plates (I had always spent most of my travel budget on food), writing in a journal and thinking nothing of the fact that I am the youngest there. And the only one without anyone across the table.

So I've come back to this pattern, haven't I? Except I no longer need the great dining experience. Take out quiche and snacks on the train were just fine.

Alright. I've arrived. From Amsterdam station, I take the tram -- here's a view from the window:


...get off, get lost, but as always, eventually find my new home.

I'm only here for two nights and I am staying at a tiny but quite lovely place (Le Quartier Sonang) just off the ring of canals and awfully close to the museums should I feel so inclined. And when I say *tiny* I mean it. It's a two room hotel. I have the front room.


With a view.


And because it is tiny, it's hard to book a room (always full! I was lucky), so don't spread the word! We'll keep it an Ocean secret.

I leave here three parting comments on Amsterdam in case you're wondering if it should be included in your future travel plans:

First of all, the city always feels very young. As if they skimmed off the older people and asked them to please stay home. Everyone is one third my age.


Too, everyone rides bicycles. They careen down streets and paths at speeds that would make race horses wince. They chat to each other or to cell phones, they laugh, they hold hands, they peddle children around. And no one wears helmets.


And finally, as I come across a rapidly disappearing sun, I note how late it is. And how wonderful it is to have such long days in this warmer (but not hot) season.


My eyes are closing with every word added here. I leave you with wishes for a good night. A quiet night, wherever you are right now.