Monday, June 1, 2009

After Auschwitz, I continued on to Krakow. The drive through the Polish villages took a while, but was quite worth it to get a glimpse of suburban side. After finally finding my old town hotel and ditching the car, I was able to do a little walking to get a sense of the city, which was one of few Polish cities to remain relatively undamaged during WWII. It was nice to stroll and admire the original architecture, not rebuilt versions like you’ll find in Warsaw and other cities. On the drive in I got a beautiful glimpse of the castle so I walked back to the same spot to take a photo and enjoy some much-needed coffee on a dreary spring day, from a floating café on the Vistula river. The next morning I got an early start so ventured off to the Wawel Castle, and explored some of the exhibits in the complex. I particularly enjoyed seeing the 16th & 17th century suits of armor, shields, swords, and other medieval weapons (sadly, no photos allowed!) and of course the statue of Krakow’s infamous citizen, Karol Józef Wojtyła more commonly known as Pope John Paul II. Note to readers without children, do not fall for the “dragon’s den” it’s only steep climb down the inside of the castle walls that ends in a cave and exit to the castle near the fire breathing steel dragon statue.
After the castle I walked on to Kazimierz and then on to Podgorze, the old Jewish districts. When Nazi Germany invaded, the Jewish population was forced into a walled zone known as the ghetto before being later sent to the concentration camps. The only pharmacy that stayed in the ghetto belonged to a Catholic who administered medicines to the ghetto residents, often free of charge. Tadeusz Pankiewicz and his staff also smuggled in food, information, and hid Jews facing deportation and so he saved countless Jews from the Holocaust. Just in front of the pharmacy is a memorial of 70 chairs that represent the furniture and remnants of other belongings that were discarded by the ghetto’s Jews as they were deported to death camps.
Another infamous name, Oskar Schindler, a German businessman, came to Krakow specifically to get labor for his enamelware plant from the Ghetto. Although it was initially only a business decision, eventually he sympathized with the Jews and took measures to protect as many as he could, personally intervening when 300 of his workers were deported to Auschwitz.
My last stop in Krakow was back to Rynek Glowny, the largest medieval town square in Europe, for a shop around the craft stalls in the Sukiennice or Cloth Market and a tasty, delicious, beautiful meal of pierogies and apple strudel at Wesele.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Auschwitz (Oświęcim)

I’ve always wanted to visit Auschwitz, the largest WWII Nazi concentration and extermination camp, to better understand the sufferings and losses endured during the holocaust but since it is in the rural south of Poland, I never felt quite right about making a trip solely for this purpose. So it was a happy coincidence when I had to make a work trip to Chorzow, Poland only 45 minutes away from Oświęcim, the Polish town later renamed by the Germans. I tried to emotionally prepare myself by reading as much as I could about the horrors that took place there, but there was no way to every fully ready to experience pure evil & hatred in such startling reality. My tour started at the lower camp, which was surprisingly small and pretty even, with neatly arranged red brick buildings that seemed much more reminisce of a college campus than a place of torture. Just after we walked through the barbed wire fences and gate with the motto, Arbeit macht frie, a cruel irony, roughly translating to “Work shall set you free,” we saw the spot where an orchestra played. Our guide explained this served two purposes, to keep the inmates in step so they could be easily counted and also to give outsiders the impression that this was truly a happy work camp. It is shocking that villagers, let alone world leaders, had absolutely no clue of the crimes being committed in their backyard. We visited several barracks in Auschwitz I, the walls adorned with photographs of victims and learned that many people – strong, young people – who came here did not survive 1 year. Inmate supervisors were threatened with their lives if their prisoners violated any rules, so often their actions against other prisoners was just as atrocious as the Nazis’. I fought tears near the execution wall and broke down completely when we visited the starvation and standing cells, a 1.5m space where four inmates would be forced together, standing for days. If anyone escaped from Auschwitz, 10 prisoners would be tortured or killed as retribution. Display cases in the barracks contained endless piles of items taken from prisoners, suitcases with names & addresses written on the outside, eyeglasses, shoes - one case just of children’s, and human hair. The Nazi’s recycled everything they took from their victims, for example Jewish hair was used as insulation in Nazi soldiers’ blankets. After the war, the camp commandant Rudolf Höss – who disguised himself as a farmer to escape punishment – was sentenced to death by hanging on the Auschwitz I grounds, across from the house where he lived with his family. Next to the gallows we saw the gas chamber, where pellets the size of an aspirin would be dropped through tiny holes in the ceiling to kill up to 1,000 people at a time. Immediately next door was a crematorium for easy disposal of the bodies. Feeling very somber and saddened, we boarded a bus for Birkenau, Auschwitz II, 3km away. This was the image of a concentration camp I was expecting, a massive barbed wire perimeter, huge wooden barracks, elevated guard stands, and of course the railway tracks that transported so many Jews to their death. It was here that over 1 million souls were taken, a drastic comparison to the 70,000 lost in Auschwitz I. I was immediately struck at how cold & windy it was, even on a June day, I could not fathom how anyone survived a winter in this place. The huge wooden barracks, which were originally designed as horse stables for 75 animals, slept over 1,000 inmates on wooden slab bunk beds. The toilets were a communal bench that did not have adequate drainage as such many suffered from disease. Our guide showed us the train platform where the selection process took place. Many believed they were coming to a work camp, which is why their arrivals were often so orderly and obedient. They were told that to avoid lice & disease in the camp they would first need to be showered so to leave their suitcases, with their names written, on the platform so that their possessions could be transferred to their barracks. One older Jewish woman even tried to tip a Nazi soldier who helped her with her bags they so believed their instructions. After the doctors separated the sick, elderly, children, & women with children from those who were able to work, each group would then be divided by sex. Believing they were only going off to the showers many did not protest. Inmates were assigned to take all the gold teeth off the bodies after the gassings, for them this was also a death sentence as eventually they would be killed to prevent them from telling the others what was happening.
When finally the Soviets came to liberate the camp, the Nazis bombed the gas chambers to cover up their crimes and evacuated the prisoners who could leave on a death march to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. Only 1/3 of the 60k prisoners made it.
On the bus back, some people in our group who had remained very somber and quiet throughout the tour started to chat and we learned that an elderly Frenchwoman in our group had actually lost her mother in Auschwitz. Of course the entire experience there was extremely impactful but realizing that there are still victims of this incredible tragedy still living today made it all the more relevant to me. I can only hope that the past will set us of prejudice, free of hate.
But where there is hope, there is life. – Anne Frank

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Who’s life is so fabulous she can holiday in Champagne? That’s right ladies & gents, I have reached a new level of sophistication in my 30-something, Euroized life!
Maria, Tracey, and I decided to take advantage of a long Dutch holiday weekend by heading off to the French countryside. Getting there was nowhere near as fun as our spontaneous Paris weekend due to the atrocious traffic and shoddy Google directions…not surprising that even a computer program can’t figure out the interwoven little villages that make up this region, especially as every single one contains a Rue de’ Ingles and token stone church….but what fun we lacked on the drive was certainly made up for once there! Our lodging for this rather authentic weekend was a rustic apartment in a proper country “manor.” Our hosts at Manoir Maffrecourt, Brits Sandra & Grant, patiently awaited our arrival even though it was after midnight and easily 2 hours later than planned – not the last time we would get horribly lost this weekend! Our tour of the offered amenities was rather brief, a house dog named Hector, and the 24 hour self-service bar where a fantastic array of Dampierre (local) champagne, homemade apple cider, local wines & beers were available to us. It was like Big Ed’s garage but with a mini-fridge of bubbly for the taking! Once we coordinated our sleeping arrangements -- me being the weekend organizer and driver in the private bedroom, and Tracey, Maria, and a very handy pillow ‘sausage’ to keep everyone in their own space took the pull out daybed in the living room – we sampled a few bottles of the much earned Dampierre. One glass in we knew that not only had we made the right choice in going to Champagne for the weekend, but that we were also quite possibly the luckiest people ever to have found such a gem of genuine accommodation.
The next morning we awoke to splendid sunshine and the honking of the local bread truck, where our thoughtful hosts bought us some fresh baguette and croissants, which they delivered with tasty homemade rhubarb jam. As we got ready for the day, a swallow made it’s way into our apartment (Gite Cerise) and much to the girl’s discomfort could not see itself back out, all while leaving a trail of droppings in it’s wake. Thanks to our very kind, and very patient, hosts the crisis was quickly resolved and we were able to eagerly set off and see the Champagne region. In our first stop, Epernay, we did a nice tour of the Mercier cellars and strolled down the Avenue de Champagne to gawk at the infamous Moet (makers of the super-expensive Dom Pierre, in honor of the monk who inventing the blessed bubbly) house. Maria & Tracey took the plunge and bought some very blinged out bottles but I decided to conserve my cash for the local, not to mention cheaper, finds.
As we drove on the Route de Champagne, we realized – much to our dismay - that the champagne houses were only open for tastings during a very small window of the day, and of course, we had arrived too late. But the venture wasn’t all in vein; we saw some incredibly quaint villages, including Avize, which had a beautiful hillside view over the vineyards. When the black clouds rolled in and rain drops the size of golf balls started to fall, we retreated to the dry warmth of the Michelin starred Aux Armes de Champagne in L’Epine. Three glorious gastronomical hours, 6 different types of cheeses, and 8 bottles of champagne brewed by our waiter himself (just like Hollywood, everyone’s a champagne maker!) later we started the trek back to Manoir Maffrecourt. Predictably we got tragically lost– those country lanes were very confusing!! – and nearly peed ourselves when upon arrival in the wee hours of the morning, Maria, a true NYC girl, protected us from bats and other creatures of the night with the “electro-magnetic waves” from her iPhone and an umbrella!
We again awoke to some lovely sun, and more fresh bread this time delivered by our very own pajama clad Maria with curls sticking every which way. On the agenda this day? A bike ride to St. Menehould and lots, and lots of champagne drinking. The 10k ride might have been slightly easier if not for the massive hills and country highway! traffic, but at least there was a good bit of country scenery and friendly cows…even some of the Christian faith…along the way. We rewarded our aerobic feat with a lovely lunch at the Cheval Rouge, Maria sampled the local delicacy pig’s feet while Tracey & I went a much more conservative direction with a goat cheese salad. Back at the Manoir we were true ladies of leisure, soaking up the sunshine, sipping the bubbles, reading gossip magazines, and talking general nonsense. Sandra prepared a delicious traditional, home cooked dinner while Grant supplied the ‘dessert’ of home-brewed liquor.
The sun was again shining the next morning but as our heads were a slight bit sore, we didn’t seem to appreciate it quite as much as the other days. It wasn’t long until we were back in fighting form and off to visit the American Cemetery in Muese-Argonne. On the way we came across a very impressive WWI memorial in Varennes, which we found was donated to the citizens of that village from the State of Pennsylvania…very interesting! Of course it took a few hours, but eventually we found the cemetery where over 14,000 Americans were killed in WWI, 1918-1919.
On the way home we again found ourselves on the Route de Champagne and this time, a house that was open for tastings in the village of Bouzy (how appropriate!) no less.
It was a classic ending to another superb trip with some very fabulous friends.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Bratislava / Brno / Prague

After Sofia, our shows traveled on to other parts of E. Europe and so did I. In my first stop, Bratislava (Slovakia), I took advantage of the amazing weather by walking up to the castle, some nice views of the New/”UFO” bridge & St. Martin’s cathedral but not much to see in the buildings, and around the winding streets around Michael’s Gate. In the old city area I discovered streets full of shops, restaurants, all with outdoor terraces alive & buzzing with the unmistakable spring feel in the air, and more quirky E. European statues, like the Paparazzi, Cumil “The Watcher” man in a manhole, and Schoener Naci, a Bratislava citizen who used to walk the streets in his finest, greeting people as they passed by.
My hotel was also a highlight of this short stay in Slovakia, there were touch panels in the people elevator - very futuristic - and a vehicle elevator to get to the parking garage. Once again, I was easily amused.
From Bratislava I drove into the Czech Republic. It was European Labor Day and the weather was perfect for the holiday, although I was working it was nice to have a day driving through the countryside surrounded by the bright yellow “mustard” flower fields. My destination was Prague but as I was passing by Brno, I thought I would stop off to explore the country’s second largest city. The police check point coming into the city and then lack of activity, people, open shops, etc. in the centre struck me as odd initially but I dismissed it as being a holiday and morning time, but when I realized the town was virtually deserted after the few hours spent visiting the Cathedral of SS Peter and Paul, the Town Hall Tower, and the Parnas Fountain, it started to feel very eerie. As I walked down the Masarykova towards the Namesti Svobody (main square), out of the corner of my eye I saw a massive police TANK roll past me. Then as I looked around I realized that the street was covered with police in riot gear. Many thoughts ran through my mind… bank robbery, terrorism…then relief as I realized it was trendy to be American again thanks to Obama and that the cops were extremely relaxed & jovial. Curiosity, of course, got the better of me so I had to ask a TV crew to shed some light on what was happening. Finally I learned that a white supremacist march of 1,000 “skinheads” was taking place in just a few hours. I considered the photos I could get if I stayed around but better judgment took over and I got the &*^% out of there!
A few hours later I was safe & sound in Prague once again enjoying the many splendors the city has to offer – a mellow, eclectic vibe, beautiful architecture, bridges & spire topped buildings, and tasty food! I caught some sort of peaceful demonstration/parade of human flowers on the Manesuv most (bridge), strolled by the (John) Lennon Wall – a Czech symbol of love & peace, and went into the famous astronomical clock tower where I looked down on Old Town Square.
All things considered, it was a very eventful and enjoyable week in the former Czechoslovakia!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Easter "take 2" – Orthodox celebration in Sofia

I really enjoyed Bulgaria the second time around, even despite being horribly ripped off by yet another taxi (it would be a lot easier if licensed and unlicensed weren’t identical yellow!). I was there again for work and while there wasn’t much free time I made the most of what time I had. After a publicity appearance at a public school, a completely run down and depressing building, but one filled with so much energy and light from the very enthusiastic & happy children learning there, I went off to the downtown area. There I discovered new sites like the Archaeology Museum (a sign at the entrance informed me no handguns allowed) where I saw incredible artifacts from the 3rd century, the Presidency where I watched the hourly changing of the guard, and the Sveti Georgi Rotunda, the oldest building in Sofia.
After a tasty pizza lunch, I walked down by Sveta Nedelya, en route to see the Banya Bashi Mosque, the only working mosque in the city, and the Mineral Baths built in the early 1900s. I ventured on to the City Garden, and strolled through the Easter craft market admiring the intricately hand painted eggs and had some fun looking at the quirky statues and old men playing chess nearby. I rounded out the day with a little shopping and ice cream on Vitosha Blvd.
Work consumed most of the rest of the week, but the best parts of this trip were still to come! Outside our venue I met a sweet elderly couple who were selling hand-made pinwheels on the plaza, after a few purchases and comical hand gestures I learned they used to have a magic act, very coincidental since I was there with our magic show.
On (Orthodox) Good Friday I went inside the Aleksander Nevski church and watched as a line of people reaching out the door slowly progressed toward a table in the center, which they passed under after kissing the Priest’s hand and then left flower offerings at the crucifix. I read somewhere that the table symbolizes Jesus’ coffin and passing under it brings health & fertility, but somewhere else it said the act was symbolic of Jesus’ passing into the tomb. In either case it was a very unique and interesting tradition to watch.
Saturday I attended the Pascha (Easter) vigil with our local partners. At the church we joined hundreds of other worshippers in a candlelit procession around the church, reenacting the journey of the myrrhbearers to the tomb of Jesus, while a deep chanting, coming from a remarkably ordinary man inside the church, floated over the crowd. The liturgy very ceremonial lead by the ornately dressed bearded Priest. Of course I didn’t really understand much of what was said, and as it was standing room only in the incense laden church I didn’t stay too long, but to take part in such a real cultural/religious celebration, far removed from the typical tourist haunts, was unbelievably beautiful and truly moving. Unfortunately I did not have my trusty camera along to document the experience, but at least it’s an experience I will not soon forget.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter with the Pope

Rome is such an amazing city, full of some of the most incredible history in the world and fantastic food to boot! And of course, it is THE place to be on Easter, the holiest of holy days. There was a stressed shopping spree squeezed in between our site-seeing, thanks to Alitalia failing to load our entire flight’s luggage, but we tried hard not to let it ruin our good time. The first day we toured the Vatican and got to see the Sistine Chapel where we were repeated shooshed and shuffled about, with our necks craning upward so we could see what the big “Michelangelo” fuss was about. It was quite a nice roof I must say! After we finished there we went to St. Peter’s Square and watched Good Friday Mass on LCD screens outside the basilica. Of course I’ve seen the Pope (or Ho Fa as I like to call him) televised before, but to know all this was going on only a few hundred feet away was quite moving. We hung around a bit and watched all the colorful clergy, from all nationalities and walks of life, depart the church. After sundown, we headed to the Colosseum to see the Ho Fa lead the candlelit “Way of the Cross” procession. Unfortunately we got locked in the Parco di Traiano with some other American tourists– took a little while to figure out the entrance was still open! - and missed the actual procession, but there were still thousands and thousands of people congregated to hear the Pope’s blessings. I didn’t understand a thing but it was unbelievable to see such unity and all the twinkling lights surrounding the Colosseum.
Saturday morning we went to the Villa Borghese and admired the Renaissance sculptures & paintings. When we had our fill of the arts, we took a very lovely stroll through the park and meandered through Piazza del Popolo. After a nice pizza lunch, we worked our way up the Spanish Steps then went on to enjoy a tasty gelato at the beautiful Trevi Fountain and finally on to appreciate the unbelievable 2nd century architecture of the massively impressive temple to the gods, the Pantheon.
We were completely wiped out by the end of Holy Saturday, which was good for Tracey and I since we had given up our biggest indulgence, vino, for Lent and knew that just one short sleep away we would finally be able to indulge once more!
We were like 2 kids on Christmas waking up on Sunday, except for that it was Easter and the Pope Benedict’s mass and a wine lunch awaited!!! St. Peter’s Square was quite crowded, but thankfully not nearly as bad as we assumed from the packed subway cars. Again I did not understand much of what went on, but it was truly unbelievable to see the Ho Fa in person, even if he was about a mile away!
We followed the swarm of people, again all sorts of clergy amongst them, down Via della Conciliazione and over the Ponte Vittorio Emanuele bridge. Eventually we made our way to the Nuova Square where we had another delicious pizza lunch and our first refreshing sips of the anticipated (since Ash Wednesday, that is) vino! Luckily my pick of Prosecco hit the spot perfectly, but Tracey had to trade in her house red wine for something a little more pleasing to the palate, but it wasn’t long until we were riding that bike once again.
Later that day we toured the Colosseum, which was not quite as expected on the inside, but still very interesting and then ventured into the Treviste area for some relaxing people watching & dinner.
Needless to say my first Easter abroad was very eventful, very fun, and very, very holy!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Les Arcs Ski Trip

By no means am I an expert skier, but when I have been dying to ski the Alps. Kvos and my friend Charles were also up for some winter fun so off we went to Milan where Kvos picked us up and 7 very long, but picturesque & chatty, hours later we arrived at our destination - Les Arcs, 1950 meters up. After we settled into our hotel/apartment in Prince Des Cimes we set off to see our tiny village and fill our growling bellies. The exploration took all of 10 minutes but it was freezing so we stopped for some hot chocolate at the local bar and then went on to get some yummy raclette. The mess left by the melted triangle of cheese wasn’t very attractive but it sure was tasty on potatoes, veggies, and bread!
Early the next morning we enjoyed croissants from the bakery next door and got hit the slopes. Kvos wasn’t feeling the ski vibe but Charles & I had a great time zooming down the open mountain. It was quite unlike anywhere I’ve ever skied. The slopes were so wide and open that several times you had the feeling of skiing alone, despite the crowded lift lines. After several runs, our confidence was soaring so we decided to trek across the mountain to try some new slopes. All was fine & well until the lift ride up the final peice, it was terrifying, and by terrifying, I mean pee in your pants and cry for your Mom, fall to your death with just one false move, frighteningly terrifying. Thankfully there was only really one tricky part on the way down, where a corner literally dropped off the face of the world, but we managed to navigate around it successfully. We stopped for a refresher shortly after that part and got to see para-skiiers dropping down from the sky. We knew it was time to quit when we both starting taking falls on our tried & true runs so back to our apartment we went to warm our aching bones. After the long day skiing, it was rather calming watching the skiers go by on the lift just outside our window. There wasn’t much more to our trip besides another tasty French-style breakfast, a 5 hour drive back to Italia, a pizza stop in the city of Navarro and 2 hour flight home. It was a lot of work for one day skiing, but it was still well worth it!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

365 days, 23 countries, 1 very happy girl….

Most days my heart almost bursts from happiness. I have all that I could ever ask at this point in life; the love & support of my amazing family and friends back home, new life-long friendships here, an exciting & fulfilling job, and, of course, the opportunity to travel the world and the means to do so. I am living my dream. I only wish that I could share the joys and wonders of the past year with my loved ones directly. It seems very unfair that I - just one person - get to have all the fun, but at least I’m having enough for everyone!

The Road Not Taken
Robert Frost

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Wroclaw (vrat-slav), Poland

Wroclaw was one of very few European cities I really wasn’t looking forward to visiting. I expected a boring town with no character…thankfully I could not have been more wrong! Wroclaw is a pleasant little city, with a thriving student population, and several unique, historical oddities. The arena we played had once hosted Nazi rallies lead by Hitler himself!
I literally stumbled over my first surprise; at the corner of ul. Pilsudskiego and u. Swidnicka is a sculpture of 7 bronze statues descending into the pavement on the east side of the street and ascending on the west side. I’ve since found that this is called the Passage Sculpture and was created to commemorate the installation of martial law in 1981 to end Soviet oppression.
As I ventured into old town, I was awestruck by the vibrant Town Hall in Rynek, the main market square. Most of the old town area was destroyed in WWII, but like Warsaw, has since been rebuilt to model its original appearance. The Polish towns that I have visited are so colorful, it says a lot for the resilience of the Polish spirit considering the many sufferings these people have endured over the centuries.
In the corner of Rynek I found the Hansel and Gretel houses, two charming buildings linked by a archway dating back to 1728. Originally it lead to the nearby Church of St. Elizabeth’s cemetery, which explains why the Latin inscription reads “Death is the Gateway to Life.”
As I left the square, I noticed a row of decorative marble balls lining the street, the lead ball being pushed by a pair of cute gnome statues. Later, after I had my giggle and a photo, I learned that these unusual dwarf statues were all over the old town area. The dwarve's connection to Wroclaw began with Orange Alternative movement, when graffiti of happy dwarves were painted over anti-communist slogans on city walls in a peaceful, alternative protest to communism. Today there are more than 40 statues, which made for an extremely fun, and educational, day of dwarf hunting for the amateur travel photographer. And the cultural/fun – pierogi eater, sleepyhead, etc. -- background of each statue was very entertaining.
Maybe I am just easily amused, but those little statues really changed my entire outlook on Wroclaw. Had it not been for them I would not have discovered how beautiful or interesting this city is…and most importantly, I would not be looking forward to returning as much as I am now.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Spontaneous Paris

When Tracey and I re-united with our other halves, Maria and Tash, a plan was hatched for the four of us to do a weekend getaway together, but our hopes of it happening soon dwindled as we compared schedules. But we realized it was only Friday of the weekend and we had no plans for Saturday, so online we went to book our hotel and the next morning we were off to Paris! We were on the biggest high from our spontaneity and the weekend really could not have been any more perfect. We left Amsterdam rain and headed toward the French sunshine, so warm that we were able to put the top down in Tash's sleek Audi (4 girls in a high-end convertible, total guy magnet) as we navigated our way through the Parisian streets. The hotel we booked was a real score, right in the heart of the Latin Quarter and very quaint; small but classy, just like us! Our first order of business after settling in, a brasserie for some French fromage and coffee. After we were well satiated we continued to wander through the cobble stone streets of the Latin Quarter, down to the Seine and over to the Louvre. All the sites were closed by the time we got out and about, but we were quite happy to just take in the Parisian vibe and stroll about. After our dinner we went to another brassiere – Le Buci – and had the most delicious chocolate mousse ever. I hadn’t been much of a fan up until then, but anytime I see mousse on a menu I will be sure to be saving room. The next morning we woke early, eager to soak up as much of Paris as we could before leaving later that day, but sadly Paris wasn’t as interested in us and almost everything was closed! Luckily the brassiere from the previous day’s fromage stop was opened so we went and had a traditional French breakfast of baguettes, croissants, butter, jam, and coffee. Afterwards we headed on to visit Notre Dame cathedral, a very remarkable and impressive church. As it was Sunday there was a mass being celebrated, which was really a treat to see. Before leaving our fair Pari(s), we stopped for lunch at yet another brassiere in our adopted neighborhood. I decided to go authentic and had the cheeseburger with FRENCH fries, topped off with a tasty crème brulee, which was still flaming when brought to the table. The car ride back was just as fun as the one there – lots of laughing and general silliness – it was a perfect end to an incredible weekend with some very good friends.