If I’ve been quiet these past few weeks, it’s not been out of laziness. Quite the opposite, in fact: In September I covered more than 12,000 miles, recorded 43 pages of travel notes, and shot 30,092 photos.
That last figure is no mistake or exaggeration. I counted.
In time Esteban and I will treasure revisiting our memories, I’m sure. But in the short term the volume feels daunting. So — rather than regale you with a long tale about our travels — I thought I’d ease into it today with only two or three shots from each place we visited.
Here’s the idea: First I’ll present an obligatory tourist snap. Then, I’ll show you something less touristy that caught my eye. Deal?
Let’s start with Paris.
Although this isn’t a photo of me, it’s still autobiographical in a sense, as a metaphor for how small I feel against this city’s historical backdrop. It’s also a reminder that — no matter how many times I visit — there will always be a cultural gulf that will mark me as an American among the French.
A casual stroller might easily miss my second landmark. I don’t know who’s behind the Oraculo Project, but I love the message. “Stop here. Appreciate life for a minute. And smile.” I did all three.
From Paris, I took a day-trip to Chartres. If the name rings a bell, it’s probably because of the cathedral’s stained-glass windows.
I’d hoped to tour the cathedral with Malcolm Miller, walk the entire labyrinth, and see the animated light show. Alas, I was thwarted on all three counts. (Why does the last train for Paris leave before the show starts? WHY?!) But I did enjoy catching unexpected glimpses of the cathedral at every turn as I strolled through the old city.
Our next stop was the Mont St. Michel, which we visited with our friend Des. It was as mystical and magical as I’d always imagined.
After dropping Des off in Paris, Esteban and I boomeranged back out to Rouen, in upper Normandy. Although much of Rouen was left in ruins after World War II, 227 houses in its medieval center survived and are registered as historical monuments.
Not everything is in its original spot, though: When this statue’s ghost caught my eye, I dubbed the missing saint “St. Elsewhere.”
We would gladly have spent more time in Rouen, but Verona beckoned. Although we (accidentally) landed in the middle of a major festival, we had the path along the river almost to ourselves.
I’ll write more later about the many discoveries we made in Verona. But the biggest and most pleasant surprise by far was the view from our apartment’s patio.
Seriously. Who gets to have a Roman amphitheater in their back yard?! We vowed to come back … and to spend more than one night next time.
Still with me? Hang in there, because we’re almost at the last stop. We took a handful of day-trips from our base in Venice — including an afternoon in the almost overwhelmingly fluorescent Burano.
But, after so much traveling, it was wonderful to settle into our little Venice apartment for nine nights. This time we lodged in a working-class part of Cannaregio, where one of our neighbors was a gondolier named Luca. It was a privilege to look beyond the touristy clichés and glimpse the rich tradition Luca’s family has carried on for five generations.
I loved settling into the locals’ pace of daily life. My morning strolls took me past the open-air market, which was restocked with fresh fruits and vegetables and fish each day by a flotilla of overloaded boats.
And every evening, on our way home, we would walk past this arch. I loved this spot because it contained so many things I’ve come to associate with Venice: boats, murky water, lions, crumbling masonry, lines loaded with laundry …
In this frame, I can see the combination of fragility and tenacity that make Venice unlike any other city on earth. And can’t you practically hear the old bricks whispering their stories?
I’ll be back soon with a few more stories of my own.