Four weeks in 16 shots

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.

Notre Dame sunrise 1410031 CL BLOG

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.

Stop here make a wish 1450280 CL BLOG

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.

Chartres 1400165 CX CL BLOG

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.

Chartres doorway 1400102 BLOG

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.

Mont St Michel blue 1490569 CL CX BLOG

Mont St Michel 1490053 BLOG

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.

Rouen St Amant 1520030 BLOG

Not everything is in its original spot, though: When this statue’s ghost caught my eye, I dubbed the missing saint “St. Elsewhere.”

St Elsewhere 1510823 CL BLOG

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.

Verona 1540186 CR BLOG

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.

Verona patio 1540395 CL CR BLOG

Verona colosseum 1540438 BLOG

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.

Burano 1620672 BLOG

Burano window 1620696 BLOG

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.

Gondoli 1560176 PR BLOG

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.

Venice market 2 1630615 BLOG

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 …

Doorway 1570867 CL BLOG

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.


    • Thank you so much, Carolyn! And next time we have lunch I’ll tell you some of the “not fit for publication” lowlights in person. (Because it’s not really a vacation without at least one spectacular setback, right?) 🙂

  1. Thank you again for laying your beautiful photos out before us. Your blog somehow reminded me of a little Moroccan carpet shop, full of vibrant colours.

    How on earth did you get your beautiful photo of Chartres’ Rose Window? Did you have to wait for the light to be just right? I know that stained glass windows were supposed to provide opportunities for deep meditation by watching the colours move and meld as the sun rose and set.

    Chartres is a place I’ve been meaning to visit for ages but, as you say, the trains in and out of town aren’t designed for anything other than brief trips via Paris. Is Friday still the day they remove the chairs to uncover the labyrinth?

    Please do keep taking photos. We’re so lucky these days that travel photos don’t stay locked in a single photo album. But the luck is only lucky when the photos are as lovely and thoughtful as yours.

    All best wishes

    • Your kind words absolutely made my day, Elaine. Thank you!

      About the rose window: There’s a misconception that stained glass is difficult to photograph, but it’s actually the easiest subject if the sun is low on the horizon (in this case, late afternoon) and if you underexpose your image by a stop or two to prevent burnt-out highlights. I also admit that I fixed the perspective in Photoshop, since I was obviously not at window-height when I shot this and they thus appeared slightly angled.

      And as for the labyrinth: I’ve read that during the summer months they do indeed remove the chairs on Friday … but I’ve not yet been lucky enough to be there on a Friday. And anyway, the maze was partially covered in scaffolding during my last visit as part of an extensive restoration. I’ll share my rather curmudgeonly appraisal of said restoration in a post, one of these days.

      Finally, thank you for the encouragement to keep taking photos! I fear there is probably no way to stop me, really. 🙂

      As long as we’re corresponding, if you’d be comfortable sending me your mailing address, I did make good on my promise to pick up a small token for you at Shakespeare & Company in Paris. My email is hmunro {dot} wordpress {at} gmail {dot} com.

      Cheers to you!

      • How sweet of you He. I know, from experience, it’s not easy to remember to pick up gifts when you’re travelling. Thank you. Next time you’re in Paris – or Chartres – or Rouen, let me know and I’ll hop on a ferry and we’ll have a cup of tea. 🙂

        • I would love to visit any of those places with you and hear your wonderful insights, Elaine — but especially Chartres, I think. Especially if we make it there on a “labyrinth day.”

    • Thank you so much for your kind comment. I assure you a lot more stories will follow! But what I really want to know is, did you move YOUR blog to another platform? I just realized it’s been ages since I saw any of your posts in the reader … but just now I saw lots of new posts on your website. Looks like we know what *my* reading will be this evening, eh? 🙂
      Anyway, thank you so much for stopping by!

      • I moved from to self hosted. But I don’t have any emails from the .com readers to send notifications to from the new blog. Kind of annoying because all the .com reader required was a click here to follow so no emails were stored. Thank you for noticing!

        • I’m so sorry I was one of the daft people who didn’t “click here to follow.” But I’d welcome being added to your notifications list after the fact, if it’s not too much trouble on your end. My email is hmunro dot wordpress at gmail dot com. Though I’ve bookmarked your self-hosted site as a reminder to stop by more often. 🙂

  2. Brilliant post. I’m really looking forward to your ‘pilgrim’ post from le Mont Saint-Michel. Fascinating, wasn’t she?

    It was a delight to spend a couple of days with you and Esteban (the highlight of my year) and I’m pleased the rest of your adventure went so well – apart from the ‘uninvited guests’ in your Rouen hotel room of course!

    • Mont St. Michel really *was* fascinating, Des. I can say without reservation that our time with you will be the highlight of Esteban’s and my year, too. What an adventure!

      Well … when we’re done savoring our Mont St. Michel memories, we’ll have to decide where to go next. We must always — always — have a next adventure in the works, Des.

      PS: As for that other matter, I’m pleased to say we’ve so far found no evidence the “uninvited guests” traveled with us, knock on wood. I’ll let you know for sure in two weeks (wink).

  3. How I love your travel photography, H! Having been away from blogging for so long, I’d almost forgotten what a rich pleasure it is to scroll through your images, each one worth pausing over and pondering. In that last photo you really do seem to have captured the essence of La Serenissima.

    • Knowing how much you love Venice, I take your kind words as a real compliment, DB. Thank you for making my day with your kind words. xx

  4. Gorgeous, gorgeous photos, H. The architecture throughout Europe is amazing. I loved Mon St Michel and hope to return one day. It’s been 25 years! Paris is Paris: a gem among gems. It captured my heart, too and never let go.

  5. You have such an amazing eye for travel photography! Really breathtaking, I think you should publish a book with your images. Some of these images bring back memories from when I traveled through Europe with my beloved in ’98. P.S. I completely get the over 30 000 images! So hard finding the time to go through them all, but thank you for making the effort to share your beautiful view with us!

    • You are so kind, Rochelle! Thank you for your buoying words, although the idea of trying to edit my photos into a book sounds terrifying. (Whenever I see a photo book, that’s always the first question I have: How did they choose which photos to include?) Well, maybe after I’m done sorting through those 30,000 images I’ll consider it. 🙂

      By the way, thank you for not batting an eye at that ridiculous figure. I’m glad you get it! I was beginning to wonder if I was maybe insane — or at the very least and undisciplined photographer. 😉

    • If you like intense colors I do hope you’ll be able to make it to Burano sometime, Timothy. Everything was so bright I could practically hear my camera’s sensor saying, “Are you kidding me?!” It was also wonderfully relaxing once you got off the main tourist route.

      • I did a Google search and wow. Yes, Burano would be a great stop to make. As you can see from my blog, I’ve spent most of my time in Asia and Turkey most recently. Europe remains to be explored. Thanks for the suggestion.

  6. Sorry to be trawling your old posts but I’m seeking inspiration. Is 2 nights enough at Mont St Michel, and did you stay on the island? Thank you very kindly.

    • Au contraire, mon ami … I’m honored you’re trawling my old posts! Two nights is enough at Mont St. Michel if you’re interested mostly in the island and its structures. We were there for only one afternoon/overnight and I do wish we’d been able to stay longer. Plus, since it’s located in Normandy — with its famously gray and rainy weather — a second night would give you a hedge against getting completely rained out.

      We did stay on the island at La Vielle Auberge, in the “Twin Room with Sea View.” It was a splurge for the size and amenities, but WHAT A VIEW. See if this link works for you:

      In fact, staying overnight on the island was my favorite part of the visit. It was magical to wander those empty streets as the sun set (depending on the time of year), after all the tourists left. During the day we found it oppressively crowded, though you have to put up with some crowds to see the interior of the abbey.

      One word of advice if you do stay on the island: Maybe make reservations at La Mère Poulard just for the experience, but otherwise go to the mainland for an early dinner (or groceries to enjoy in your room). We found only one restaurant open after dark and it was … not good. I suppose it makes sense that everything would shutter after the tourists leave because only a tiny handful of people stay behind on the island, but it was still a surprise to find ourselves with just one option.

      I hope some of this was helpful, but please drop me a line if you have more questions. You’ve also inspired me to get on the ball and just finish the post I’ve been working on since 2015! I hope that will be helpful too.

      Cheers to you, and happy travels!

      • Thank you so much. That’s incredibly helpful. Yes, there are mixed reviews about food and accomodation on the island, but sometimes you just have to accept that for the location. Two nights it is, then. It’s now slotted into my itinerary.

        • What wonderful news! I’m envious you’ll get to spend two nights there. It will be ample time to explore both the island and the surrounding area (and already I’m eager to see/hear about your experiences!). One more word of advice, though: Don’t venture onto the sand without a guide — or witnesses, at least. It took me about six steps to strike quicksand, and the tide really does come in at the speed of a galloping horse.

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