Springtime in Paris June 4, 2013Posted by Tracy in : Uncategorized , 2comments
PARIS, France – We arrived at Charles de Gaulle International Airport at 8:40 a.m., but between looking in vain for our lost luggage, filing a claim, learning to negotiate the metro system and buying a local SIM card for the phone, it was nearly 11 by the time that we emerged from the subterranean maze for my first view of the City of Light.
Unfortunately, as we approached the stairway leading to the outer world, we saw it being pelted from above by fat raindrops. We had arrived during the latest, wettest spring any Parisian could remember.
I’m traveling with my 17-year-old niece, Aniqa Rahman, who just finished four years of high school French studies, which is already proving enormously helpful. We had hit on the idea because of her studies, and because I had discovered family roots in Normandy, where a friend from San Antonio had invited me to come for a visit. Put all together, it seemed that France was calling to us.
Ani had already taken a whirlwind tour of France three years ago, so she wasn’t as enthusiastic about seeing the Eiffel Tower as I was. But I would not be dissuaded by a bit of moisture, and she humored me. We found an umbrella seller at the top of the stairs and I bought one emblazoned with the word “Paris.”
We crossed the street and I turned to look up and see the iconic tower, just a block away and enormous. No sooner had I opened my mouth to exclaim, “Look! The Eiffel Tower!” when a speeding van hitting an enormous mud puddle to my right. The drenching was a cold wet shock and I think Ani might have preferred to head for drier quarters at that point, but she was a good sport. We had an 11:30 appointment with the Fat Tire Tour Co.’s Skip the Line tour of the tower, and I thought we’d be in and out and on our way in a hurry.
No such luck. We shared a $4 hot dog and a $3 coffee as we waited for our Fat Tire guide, who whisked us past the first line of umbrella-holding, shivering tourists, but inside we were met with many more – a line for each of the elevators creaking their way up to the next level, where frigid winds and a cold drizzle awaited us. I refused to let it dampen my spirits, but when we finally arrived at the top, shivered our way through a couple of photos and worked our way down, I was happy to be back in the warm, dry metro, making our way to the Belleville neighborhood, where my friend Diana lives.
Thankfully, the rain had stopped by the time we emerged onto the colorful and lively Boulevar Belleville. We stopped a pleasant-looking man to ask him directions and he didn’t recognized our street but gestured for us to follow him to a map a few paces away and tried to help us locate our street. We headed off cheerfully in the wrong direction and it took us awhile but thanks to the kindness of strangers we found our way.
Stefane, or Tchu, who is Diana’s flat-mate, let us in and made us feel at home. The flat was cheery and bright, with large windows and vivid colors. Pots of red geraniums accented the view, matching the bright red interior of Diana’s room, where Aniqa lay down to rest and I soon fell asleep checking e-mail. Diana found us curled up on her bed like two kittens when she arrived.
It had been five years since I met Diana and traveled with her through Jalisco and Michoacán, Mexico, on the occasion of our friends Alicia and Jose Miguel’s marriage. They had invited us to accompany them on a road trip for their honeymoon and we spent a memorable week together. Diana, a warm and vivacious free spirit from Madrid, was a delight to know; we found much in common and stayed in touch. She moved to Paris and got a job teaching at a high school. Naturally when we planned this trip, I reached out to her, and to my delight, she invited us to stay at her lovely home.
Unfortunately it’s her busiest week, being the end of the semester, so we saw little of her – mostly warm embraces and rapid consultations – but we prepared two dinners and enjoyed them with Diana, her new boyfriend Nico, and Tchu.
Highlights of our time in Paris included just wandering around the neighborhood, watching the Parisians and work and at play; a Fat Tire bicycle tour of some of the city’s highlights; a night out on the town and dinner with a dear friend and former student, Sara.
The Belleville neighborhood is a vibrant mix of working-class, immigrant, professional and artist, bustling with foot traffic and bicycles and tiny little cars. In my first venture out about the neighborhood I found several Tunisian restaurants, a couple of doner kebab stands, multiple oriental markets including a window full of roasted ducks, a Vietnamese restaurant and a tiny grocery run by a couple of Spaniards; an alleyway that had been taken over and painted and decorated from one end to the other by an avante-garde collective of artists and squatters; a variety of cafés, a tailor, a bookstore and a post office, and a community garden embellished with offerings by other local artists.
Ani and I spent a couple of hours in the afternoon at Au Folies, a cozy cafe where we drank delicious hot chocolate and worked for awhile. We had offered to make dinner for Diana and Tchu, and that became an adventure in itself as Diana had bought fresh oysters – and I learned how to crack them open and serve them with a lovely onion vinaigrette.
The next day’s bicycle tour took us from the Eiffel Tower to the Tuilleries Gardens, where the Parisians were out enjoying the first non-rainy day in awhile – the clouds hovered threateningly, but only a few drops fell. We went on to cycle to the Louvre and the Grand Palais and on to the Place de Concorde, where Marie Antoinette, Louis XV and hundreds of others met their end at the guillotine (formerly called Revolution Square, but renamed in the hope that a new spirit of “Concorde” would rein… which, certainly on this day, did). Our guide, Scottie, kept us entertained with bits of colorful trivia.
That night we prepared a vegetable curry for Diana and Nico, her delightful French boyfriend, and then joined Nico and some Spanish friends at Aux Foilies, which had transformed into a packed night spot with hundreds spilling out into the street, sharing good French wine and beer and conversation. We visited for awhile then took off to see the offerings at a nearby gallery, where the artist doubles as a grafitti artist by night. He was one of those who had taken over this alley and turned it into a work of art, and had taken over the space to display his more conventional work indoors. A couple of young Chilean grafitti artists joined him there along with a hula hooper from the Carcassone and we admired his sketches that had been inked with coffee and a castle constructed of tin.
Here are a few images from those three days. Now we’re off to the South of France and to Spain – a bientot!
Panama’s Ngorongoro: El Valle de Anton October 5, 2011Posted by Tracy in : Uncategorized , add a comment
On Day Two of our Panama adventure, we climbed 1,800 feet to the Valle de Anton to see the world’s second-largest volcanic crater – second only to the Ngorogoro in Tanzania. We were met by Ivan Hoyos of Ancon Expeditions, Panama’s only Virtuoso tour provider and a conservation-oriented company linked with one of Panama’s oldest conservation groups. Ivan, who is cited in Lonely Planet, is a lively interpreter of the country’s history, culture, ecology, and almost anything that might interest a traveler.
Meet Anna and Dave, the Permacyclists July 14, 2011Posted by Tracy in : Uncategorized , add a comment
Meet Dave and Anna, the Permacyclists.
She was a corporate lawyer from Brussels; he was a sociologist from New York. Neither of them was happy with their chosen profession, and after a great deal of soul searching, they decided to do what many dream of but few actually do: They quit their jobs, studied permaculture, bought bicycles and headed off across Africa, pedaling and working their way through 12 countries, 12,000 kilometers and 16 months from organic farm to organic farm, sharing what they’d learned along the way.
Now they’ve landed in Mexico and are launching a Phase 2 of their journey, but with a difference. This time they’re bringing a video camera and sound equipment, and documenting the stories of people working on solutions to the many environmental problems they have learned about in their travels. Their goal is to make it to the Earth Summit in Rio in June 2012. And this time they’re going by bus, instead of bike, to give them time to do reporting, writing and producing for their blog.
I was inspired by their story and by their plan, since in some ways it parallels my own – so we got together and shared stories. Here’s a little bit of theirs.
Southward Bound January 6, 2010Posted by Tracy in : Adventure, Esperanza Project, Latin America, Mexico, ecotourism, voluntourism , 12comments
I’ve made my list and checked it a million times; selected and reselected my gear; said my goodbyes and received good wishes and safe travel blessings from near and far. I’ve left my car keys, my smart phone and my GPS behind. I’ll be making my way by foot now and by mass transit; everything I’ll need is either in my pack or shoulder bag, or it’s something I’ll have to find along the way, or live without.
Four days and counting December 18, 2009Posted by Tracy in : Adventure, Esperanza Project, Latin America, Sustainability, ecotourism , 4comments
Tuesday the movers come to put all my things into storage, and I’m fluctuating between exhilaration, panic and denial. The to-do list keeps growing, the time keeps shrinking. Here’s a piece I did for The Buzz Magazine that summarizes where I’m at right now, how I got here and where I’m going.
Digital nomads redefine the office
by Tracy L. Barnett, contributing writer
Last spring, I was handed an amazing opportunity. But at first it seemed like a disaster.
Like millions of others in this recession, I lost my job. It was especially unsettling, as I had moved to Houston not so long ago to take that job.
Nonetheless, I took stock of my situation and realized it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. My daughter was grown and nearing completion of her education; I had no mortgage, no debt, no health problems and a little bit of savings. I had a marketable skill set, and no urgent need to make a lot of money.
This might just be the moment to follow my dreams, I said to myself.
Most of my life I’d worked for someone else: Newspaper corporations, nonprofit organizations, a university. I had always wanted to see what I could do working for myself. And I’d always wanted to take a year for travel.
I spent hours surfing the web, seeking a way to make it happen, and I found that I was far from alone. In fact, an international community has emerged to share ideas and support each other in what is being called the location-independent lifestyle.
Havana to Tracy: Not so fast November 30, 2009Posted by Tracy in : Cuba , 4comments
Cuba, it seems, was not ready for me.
Definitely, I was not ready for Cuba.
It seems that getting a Cuban journalist’s visa is a great deal more complicated than I had been led to believe. My lack of attention to this particular detail led to a brusque reception by disbelieving bureaucrats, a long cold night in Jose Martí International Airport, and the first flight back to Cuba.
It was a costly, embarrassing and extremely painful lesson, but here’s what I learned. I’m sharing the story in the hopes that you will learn from my mistakes.
Hot springs hideaway August 19, 2009Posted by Tracy in : Adventure, Utah, ecotourism , 1 comment so far
Kayaking the Great Salt Lake would have been adventure enough for some — particularly since our self-appointed wilderness guide had a bartending shift that began at 5 and ended at 10.
But Anne De Long is no ordinary wilderness guide. She’s also a tango dancer, along with the rest of my group, which means that life really begins long after the sun goes down. And so I found myself at 1 a.m., pack strapped to my back, hoofing an hour upwards into the Uinta National Forest in the wake of a troupe of tango dancers.
I am reluctant to reveal the whereabouts of these hot springs. Let me just say that they were well worth the climb. (OK, I’ll give just one hint: its name is Diamond Fork. But don’t ask me how to get there. I couldn’t tell you, anyway – I was asleep!) By the time I’d huffed and puffed my way up the last switchback, Anne had set the scene with candles all around the secluded pool and Suan had set the “table” – a rock in the center of the pool – with olives and brie and crostini and red wine.
When we were sated from food, wine and laughter — among the many talents that Anne totes around in that backpack of hers is the persona of a slightly bawdy showgirl — she led us to the foot of the waterfall where we plunged into its icy torrents and shattered the peaceful night with screams of delight.
We soaked our cares away till nearly dawn, when we crawled into our sleeping bags and slept like the dead until the hot rays of the sun popped over the canyon wall and crept into our bags. Imagine our surprise to find a troupe of blonde, uniformed cheerleaders making their way into our open-air boudoir.
All good things must come to an end, as they say. Sigh.
Kayaking the Great Salt Lake August 15, 2009Posted by Tracy in : Adventure, Utah, ecotourism , 2comments
I’d never have believed you could pack so much life into two days. Salt Lake City and the surrounding countryside offer so much to the traveler, it really deserves a week or two. Possibly even a lifetime.
Nonetheless, two days were what we had, and our friends worked overtime to show us some of the highlights: Kayaking on the Great Salt Lake; a twilight concert downtown with the originator of reggae; a midnight hike up a mountain to an unforgettable night under the stars at Diamond Fork Hot Springs; a vegetarian buffet at a Taj Mahal-like Krishna temple in the sagebrush-covered valley and a drive through the verdant aspen forests of Sundance and the Alpine Loop.
First was the kayaking expedition. Anne De Long, our guide, warned us that the brine flies might be out in force, but we decided to chance it. We were so glad we did. The spectacular vistas, the salty air and the strange sensation of bobbing effortlessly above the briny depths made for an unforgettable experience.
Here’s a little preview:
Mexico City offers tourists a healthy deal August 3, 2009Posted by tracybarnett in : Mexico , add a comment
Another good reason to visit Mexico: Mexico City, in an innovative move designed to combat fear of swine flu, is offering free health insurance to national and international travelers, the LA Times reported today.
Anyone staying in a Mexico City hotel will receive free hospitalization, prescription drugs, doctor’s care and even hotel accommodations during convalescence.
A total of 353 people have died of the virus worldwide since the so-called pandemic hit the news in April. Meanwhile, several hundred people die of regular flu each week, as CNN pointed out.
Mexico’s tourism industry, one of the country’s most important sources of income, has been battered by the wave of negative press coverage, first because of drug-related violence (virtually none of which has affected tourists) and then swine flu (ditto). Which is a shame, since Mexico is home to an enormous wealth of culture, history, cuisine and some of the friendliest people in the world – and it’s right next door.
As for me, I’ll be going to Mexico as soon and as often as possible. With or without free health insurance.
Marvelous Matagorda July 25, 2009Posted by Tracy in : Nature tourism, Sustainability, Texas, ecotourism , 1 comment so far
Hundreds of miles of coastline stretch from Galveston to the Coastal Bend. I’d always wanted to explore that stretch in between where the Colorado River meets the sea. But aside from a state park on an island that is no longer accessible, nobody I spoke to could say much about what I might find there.
This only made me more curious. So one day I picked up the phone and started calling around. And before I knew it, I was packing my bags and headed for the coast.
What I found surprised me: spectacular beaches, abundant wildlife, great food, a fascinating history, fishing to die for and friendly folks who will make you feel right at home.
What I didn’t find was an overabundance of tourists. A couple from Fort Worth, a father and daughter from Houston, a family from Pearland and a handful of locals — but mostly, miles of white sand pounded by surf and backed by graceful dunes.
Last week I got to spend a couple of glorious days soaking up some of the best this region has to offer. On Aug. 9, the story will appear in the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News. Meanwhile, here’s a preview.