Memories of Paris - The Kid's travel adventures with Auntie Nora


A few seasons ago, I was fortunate enough to have my then 12 year old niece accompany me on one of my yearly excursions to the City of Lights.  I thought it would be a cool idea to give her the opportunity to write a “guest blog” about her memories of travelling to Paris with her slightly wacky pink-sneaker attired "Auntie Nora".   Below is an excerpt from her travel journal:

As anyone who has read this blog will already know, my Auntie Nora has somewhat of an addiction to shopping, wine and small leather goods. As a kid, this makes any travelling excursion with her quite the experience, not only because of the crazy circumstances we often find ourselves under, but also because of the many similarities we share that make our adventures so memorable. For instance, we are both slightly fascinated by anything Parisian - which would account for my auntie's many trips to Paris - and oftentimes find ourselves in whimsical little boutiques and shops on narrow and hidden streets in the most peculiar districts. We are also both captivated - I perhaps more so than her - by stories of the long-dead royals and members of the aristocracy and delight in ambling around the ancient rooms and corridors of their residences, a favourite being Versailles (where I almost got lost forever). And, as anyone who has read this blog surely already knows as well, my auntie has a slight obsession with shopping for handbags, meaning that I, as her travel buddy, have had the chance to step foot in some pretty posh designer stores (Louis Vuitton!  Coach!) and have also come accustomed to spotting great deals and good prices.


My auntie and I have had some pretty crazy experiences travelling together.  When I was twelve, we went to Paris. We spent the first couple days of our trip looking for hot rollers since my auntie's curlers blew up and we were out of contact with our families due to the lack of a phone card (note to self: plan these things in advance!). We travelled around the city via the bateau bus (my auntie is not a fan of the metro) and ate pizza a few too many times at our favourite Italian restaurant. I became accustomed to drinking tap water since the price of soft drinks in Europe is extremely expensive and taking pictures in front of designer stores since we couldn't afford anything inside! Throughout the trip, I kept a journal of what we had done each day - visit the Eiffel Tower, see the Mona Lisa, walk along the Champs-Elysees. I also have some pretty crazy memories like calling home from a payphone in the Louvre, actually purchasing a small little something at the Louis Vuitton store and getting lost in Versailles, but those are all stories for another day...


 I was reading through my journal that I wrote in every day in Paris and found some really funny things...Here is one thing I wrote:

"It took us multiple failed attempts, but we finally reached my house's message line.  I told my mom that we have phone problems, Auntie Nora's curlers blew up, our borrowed cellphone won't work and Auntie Nora's laptop can't be used because a) Auntie Nora doesn't know how to use it, b) we were thinking it will blow up like the curlers and c) we don't know how to get internet".


Having to be responsible for my 12 year old niece on her first European trip was quite an eye-opening introductory lesson on “How to Act like a Mom in 12 Easy Steps”. Almost losing The Kid amongst the crowds in Versailles, desperately coaxing her to drink yummy tap water in restaurants because the price of Coca-Cola was an exorbitant 6 Euros a pop and searching for a pay phone in the Louvre, are some of the stories that I will be blogging about in the coming weeks.

Come follow Auntie Nora and The Kid on our escapades in Paris and come travel with us....

Pink Sneaker Tips on Packing 101 – Shopping and schlepping suitcases

My overstuffed mid-size orange suitcase was clearly not going to make it home in one piece. And neither were my 6 pairs of new Spanish leather shoes, 3 pairs of the coolest European designer boots I’ve ever laid eyes upon, 2 gargantuan coffee-table books, 8 glass bottles of olive oil, 6 fragile porcelain china cups, 3 handbags and hundreds of numerous “one of a kind” unique treasures and souvenirs. Yikes!! I might need to purchase additional seating for all of my carry-on bags!

How did I manage to get myself into such a predicament? Being a seasoned traveller, you would think that I would be able to offer courses to newbie travellers on the art of packing!  At the outset of each sojourn, I deliberately pack all of my travel attire in 3 easily transportable bundles - 1 mid-size suitcase, one extra-large carry-on sac and an oversize handbag. C’est tout. I absolutely abhor having to cart luggage from one European destination to another and so I limit myself to a maximum of 3 items only.  Seems simple enough, non?  In theory, this is totally do-able. In practicality, it is nothing but a major “pink-sneaker” lapse of judgement.

Did I really think that the shopaholic in me would not succumb to the temptation of the allure of anything on sale, discounted, unique “one of a kind” coveted “piece de la resistance” limited-edition bargain?  Who are we kidding? Anything that is not available in my neck of the woods is classified as a “must-have purchase me now” hot commodity.  It’s really quite unfortunate that I often-times forget that I live on the other side of the pond and have to figure out how to neatly package up my newly acquired treasures and help them find their way across the ocean to their new digs in my crammed  superfluous armoire.

Yikes!!   And I only schlepped one mid-size suitcase with me!  Like, really? Will I ever learn?

Did I really need to purchase that authentic Spanish Paella pan? And what about that 3 foot high wrought iron replica of the Eiffel Tower?   And those illustrated coffee-table first-edition volumes depicting the entire life’s work of Antoni Gaudi and Salvatore Dali?  Did I actually purchase 3 pounds of dried basil? This might not go over that well at International customs border control.  

What if I just left my stuff on the street corner?   I seriously contemplated abandoning some of my long-sought for “treasures” in my rental apartment, as the thought of having to haul them down five flights of cramped medieval spiral stairs was just too much to bear.  Waiting for the taxi in the pouring rain, holding my umbrella over my bursting at the seams carrier bags so they wouldn’t get wet, I also considered kicking my luggage to the curb.

 Envisioning a leisurely cab ride to the airport, newly liberated from the burden of having to cart my newly acquired loot back to Canada, I foolishly realized that this scenario was neither a wise or realistic option. Perhaps I’ll have to look into the possibility of hiring a personal baggage handler to accompany me on future shopping excursions.  Now that is something worth considering and saving up for!

 Sweating, cursing, berating myself for having over-indulged once again on items I most definitely didn’t need, mercilessly kicking my baggage along the ramp, carrier bags of all shapes and sizes dangling from my arms, I somehow managed to make it onto the plane. Winded, exhausted and out of breath, deliberately ignoring the malicious glares of several passengers who were unfortunate enough to have been either hit, jabbed or poked by one of my pieces of luggage as I struggled to snake through the aisle, I was not looking forward to now being crammed like a sardine in my economy seat.

On that note, vino tinto pour moi, s’il vous plait! Make that two please!!

Come shop and schlep luggage with me...come travel with me...

Coming soon – my entertaining adventures travelling with "The Kid" (my 12 year old niece) in Paris!!

Appreciating the Prado, Westin Palace and Zara in Madrid

The final destination of our 14 day excursion to warm and sunny Spain was Madrid, where we spent two days puddle-jumping, seeking refuge from the torrential rain and trying to shake off the damp and unpleasant cold. By now you must be so sick and tired of having to continuously read about the incessant rain in Spain, but how do you think we felt, having to endure day after day of unrelenting rainfall?   It was no wonder then, that my travel buddy (Oz) booked himself on a flight to Florida upon our return to Canada, as the lack of Mediterranean sun had sent him away shivering, desperate for the warmth of a hot and sunny locale.

Even though our journey was approaching an end and I would be back home more than 48 hours later and blissfully re-claim my woolly sweaters, shawls and parkas, I was unable to endure the cold any longer and I was forced spent the last of my Euros on a winter coat.

I’ve re-iterated this countless times, and have obviously failed miserably at following my own advice, but it is essential that you pack for all types of weather, as you never know what Mother Nature is going to throw at you.  It did seem as though She was being particularly hostile to us by holding the sun hostage and unleashing the curse of Neptune upon two sun-starved Canadian travellers.

So, I now had less than two days in which to tour the world-famous Prado Museum, visit the Royal Palace, hunt for treasures in the flea markets, shop along the Gran Via, all the while keeping my eyes open for the latest designer winter coat at a bargain basement price. Yikes!! My pink-sneakered feet are really going to be in for some heavy-duty pavement pounding.



Staying at the opulent Westin Palace hotel, located just steps away from the Prado Museum and Royal Palace, I was able to kill two birds with one stone and scurry around the outside of the museum, and hastily snap pictures of the magnificent architecture. I consoled myself with the thought that since a full day was needed in order to fully appreciate the priceless masterpieces inside, I would forgo setting foot in the museum and opt to purchase an illustrated glossary instead. An added bonus was that I now had some reading material for the plane ride home!

 Having freed up a couple of hours, I was now able to devote the remainder of the day to searching for a chic, designer European labelled winter coat. The allure of the shop vitrines with their promises of transformation, invitingly beckoned to my inner shopaholic. It’s cliché to say or admit, but my Chanel, Gucci and Carolina Herrera tastes were unattainable on a Zara budget. I had blown all of my spending money on a long for coveted limited edition Carolina Herrera satchel and had spent the remainder of my vacation frugally pinching pennies. I even contemplated earning some extra dough by impersonating the human statues that perform for a few coins on the streets of Barcelona (See October 31st post “Rambling along Las Ramblas).

Before heading out to the shops along the Gran Via, Oz and I needed to fill our tummies and have a bite to eat. Since we were staying at the Westin Palace for free, courtesy of my travel buddy’s frequent flier points, we decided to splurge on breakfast and dine in the spectacular stained glass domed dining room, La Rotonda. Hesitantly placing my pink sneakered foot into the main entrance of the resplendent dining hall, I was mesmerized by the opulence and magnificence of the brilliance of the light streaming through the intricate glass domed ceiling. Wow!! So this is where royalty feasts, entertains and idles away their leisure time! Never have I seen such an abundance of Chanel, Dior and Louis Vuitton handbags, perched aristocratically upon the sequin bedazzled arms of the impeccably clothed patrons.

Hoping against hope that management would not kick us to the curb for sporting canvas keds, jeans, and Canada logo sweatshirts and not being attired head to toe in European designer duds, we were instead graciously escorted to a table, handed a menu and asked whether or not everything was to our satisfaction. Whew!! Scanning the exorbitantly priced menu, we eventually settled upon the buffet of appetizers and desserts for the somewhat affordable price of 23 Euros each! Our waiter, Prince Charming himself, could not have been more hospitable and courteous.

Pinkie extended, delicately holding a porcelain china teacup, I was momentarily transported back in time to an era where life was simpler, proper etiquette was the norm and where horse-drawn carriages whisked velvet and gold embroidered jewel clad mademoiselles from one magnificent ball to another. Daydreaming, lost in my thoughts, my Cinderella moment came crashing to an end when the fragile Limoges teacup slipped out of my hands and shattered into a million pieces onto the floor. Yikes!!

Come enjoy tea and crumpets in the luxuriously elegant Westin Palace with me...come travel with me...

The train is broken

“The train is broken” were the discouraging first words that greeted my travel buddy and I when we approached the ticket counter at the train station in Algeciras. We were scheduled to leave that afternoon on the Express train to Madrid and embark upon a five and a half hour rail journey.   Not comprehending what the ticket agent was saying to us in his broken English (obviously just as broken as the train) we couldn’t fathom that we were now stranded in Algeciras.  If we thought that our arrival by rail was arduous and challenging, nothing could prepare us for our impending departure from this Mediterranean port town.

Speaking minimal Spanish, the only two words that rolled effortlessly off my tongue were “vino tinto” (red wine) and “bolso” (handbag). Were there other words that I should have also added to my two word vocabulary?  Apparently so, as it would have been useful to at least have memorized the phrases “when is the train leaving?” and “why is the train broken?” A little bit of English, un peu de Français and some Espanol spoken by the other passengers helped us understand the complexity of the issue. There had been some type of industrial accident, resulting in the train tracks needing to be repaired, halting all incoming and outgoing trains. No one seemed to know exactly when the job would be completed, maybe sometime tomorrow or perhaps the next day or maybe even the following week?  Why hurry?  Are you in a rush to get somewhere?  Linger, stay a while, have a siesta, put your feet up, relax, don’t worry, take it easy, and if all else fails, have some more vino, in mass quantities, if need be.

Yikes!! I clearly should have clued in when it took us more than 12 hours to get to Algeciras on this old-fashioned now broken-down caboose that our departure journey would prove to be equally as gruelling and difficult.  Algeciras and train travel are two words that don’t bode well in my books.

The ticket counter had erupted into full-blown chaos, with disgruntled passengers screaming, crying and threatening the helpless ticket agents, who were clearly ill-prepared for a “catastrophe” of this magnitude.

On the bright side, the sun had dared to peek through the sky and opted to do battle with the rain gremlins and kicked the clouds to the curb. Was it mere coincidence that the sun had once again chosen to re-claim this Moroccan inspired enclave and give us a parting gift of a sunny send-off into a yet unknown abyss on the bus ride from hell? It would have been an even more fitting farewell to have been ushered out of town with gale force winds amidst a torrential downpour!!

Yup, you read that correctly, as we were to be herded onto a bus to the town of Ronda, where we would then catch the train to Madrid.  Little did we know that Ronda sits precariously on the precipice of the El Tajo gorge, nestled deep in the Serrania de Ronda mountain range. We were also unaware that the ravine was an impressive 730 metre drop  straight down into a bottomless pit.

The two hour journey to Ronda started out pleasantly enough. Feeling smug and content that I had snagged the window seat, I drank in the spectacular views of the magnificent lush tree-lined hills and ravines.  Weaving and winding our way up the mountains, our bus leaning perilously close to the edge of the curvaceous road, I tentatively dared to peek through the window to gage our whereabouts and was startled to see that the tree lined scenery had now been replaced by plunging cliffs and steep escarpments. Yikes!! 

Clutching my bronze limited edition Carolina Herrera handbag, I prayed that my pink-sneakered feet would not be the first to be hurled out of the window when the bus lurched over the ledge, having mistakenly navigated the depth of one of the numerous sharp hairpin curves.

 Had I not spent the remainder of the journey with my eyes squeezed tightly shut, bargaining for my life, I would have taken some digital snapshots of the incredible views but alas, I needed to keep sane and not see how perilously close to the edge of the world I was.

This explains why my blog does not have any pictures of the bus ride to Ronda.

 Perhaps you can look up Ronda in a picturesque travel book and check out the spectacular cliff-hanging scenery for yourself.  I’m certain that you would have done the same, huddling under a blanket, cradling your newly acquired designer handbag, praying that you survive the bus ride from hell, anxiously counting down the minutes until the bus screeches to a halt in Ronda.

Come experience a once in a lifetime roller-coaster ride on the bus with me and discover the peaks and valleys of Spanish bus travel with me...