Viva la France! Road-trip Foolishness Pt. 6: Chamonix

The crowning jewel of our trip to France was Chamonix.

Chamonix, located near where the borders of France, Switzerland, and Italy meet, is a resort-town. We drove in mid-afternoon and spent the evening wandering around finding dinner before heading to bed for an early night.

In the morning I woke up, made some coffee, and bundled up to go sit on the balcony and enjoy the view of Mont-Blanc, the highest summit in France. Once everyone was up, a few of us walked over to the cable-car that would take us up the mountain. The cable car was cheaper than was listed on the website, and ended up costing us only 15 euros round trip.

If you’re making the hike up to Lac Blanc, I highly suggest taking the cable car to cut time off of your trip up the mountain. The hike up (sans cable car,) is barren, boring, difficult, and quite frankly, a waste of time. You would have to wake up hella hella early to even make it to the Lac Blanc refuge at the end of the hike, and even then you may get there after dark. So, be smart, and take the cable car.

Our early-morning hike was pretty interesting, as it was extremely cloudy. I didn’t mind, and neither did my companions, as the higher we went, the thinner the clouds became and leT ME TELL YOU, there are fewer things as sublime as hiking the side of a mountain and looking over your shoulder to see a break in the clouds and THERE THEY ARE, THE MIGHTY AND MAJESTIC ALPS. It was like peek-a-boo, only epic instead of weird.

The hike up to Lac Blanc Refuge wasn’t too difficult, the hardest part being the incline at the beginning. Now, I’m not the most active person, as I’m just mostly on my feet all day and I run some mornings (I’m not a marathon runner–hell, I’m not even a mile runner,) so when I say it is do-able, I really mean it. There is a part of the hike where you have to rock scramble up, but as long as you have the proper shoes the worst that will happen is you get a nice leg workout.

When we reached the refuge, the cloud cover pretty much cleared up, and we were able to take in panoramic views with our own eyes and cameras.

We hung out at the refuge for a while, ate some granola bars and apples, and took lots and lots of selfies. Eventually we knew we had to hike back down to the cable car, as it stops running at a certain time and we did not want to be stranded in the French Alps. The hike down took a while, as we had to be careful coming back down the rocks, and that incline from the start of our hike became the craziest decline– I definitely slipped on my ass a few times, and I wasn’t alone.

We ended up having to wait in line for about 45 minutes to catch the cable car down, mais c’est la vie. My group and I kept taking turns to hold our place in line to take pictures, and when you’re in the company of friends, 45 minutes waiting for a cable car in one of the most beautiful places in the world isn’t bad at all.

When we got back down to the bottom of the mountain, we walked back to town to meet up with the rest of our group. As we debated our dinner choices, we stopped and saw an aerial performance mother-daughter duo, who were using bungees to do stunts in the spaces between buildings. It was a little thing that made an already special day that much more excellent.

We all stayed up talking before we went to bed that evening, and the next morning we woke up to explore the town some more and do some last minute souvenir shopping. We came across an older gentleman who was selling dog key chains, except they were made out of pipe-cleaners and the man made them himself. I practiced my French a little because I wanted to get his photograph, and I opened the conversation with “Hello, how are you today?” and he just responded with “No, don’t ask me that!” I laughed and he let me take his picture when I asked. Not the best quality image, but still one of my favorites from the trip.

After our shopping trip we had to leave this gorgeous place and make the drive to Lyon. We were genuinely sad to leave and most of us shared that we would definitely make an effort to return and spend more time in the area.  So, if you’re ever in the east of France, check out Chamonix. There are hikes for everyone, skiing, and a charming town with an old guy making awesome key chains.

Safe Travels, and Happy Shooting!

Viva la France! Road-trip Foolishness Pt. 5: Marseilles

If you ever find yourself planning a trip to France, do yourself a favor and go to Marseilles.

My road-trip crew and I rolled into Marseilles mid-afternoon in the month of August. It was warm. It was hilly. It was one of the most beautiful cities I had ever visited.

We stayed at an AirBnB that was near the top of the tallest hill in Marseilles, directly below the Notre Dame de la Garde. Our hosts were very accommodating and great at communicating, and the apartment we stayed in had a view of the port. Waking up every morning to an incredible view-over-coffee definitely set the tone for our stay.

After we checked-in, we walked down the hill to the port to find some dinner. My friend Sean and I were having a blast taking pictures of the sunset over the area, and we vowed to wake up bright and early to get more photographs.

We’re the kind of people who, when on a short vacation, will get up and do as much as possible, so sure enough we woke up at 5AM, drank some coffee and wandered around Marseilles. Sean and I found a playground covered in street art, experienced the fish-market at the port, and explored some back streets. The fish-market was super cool, even if some men paid me some unwelcome compliments in French (eye-roll).

We explored, drank coffee on the docks, and took pictures for a good 5 hours before returning to our companions sleeping-in at our AirBnB, croissants in tow. It was around noon when we left the apartment one more, and headed straight up the stairs near our place to visit the Notre Dame de la Garde. The neat-o thing about this church is how it has a maritime theme, with ships dangling from the ceiling and paintings of vessels on the walls. Marseilles is a port city, so it only makes sense, and it made for some really neat photographs.

 

After the church, we explored the hill top and got lost. We ate apples at a park and wandered some neighborhoods, and finally made our way back down to the port, where a market was happening.

We all bought some souvenirs and continued on our way around the port, before walking in the general direction of the Cathedrale la Major. We totally got lost (again) but we were glad we did, because we found some excellent street art and even stumbled upon some artists putting up some art.

When we got to the cathedral I was exhausted, so I admittedly didn’t take like any pictures and I sat on a bench and took a nap. I’m super lame, but hey, when it is nap time, it is nap time.

We ended our evening at the beach, which was closed and dark, but we still managed to catch the sunset. We walked all the way back up the hill to our apartment, where once again we got lost, but at least this time we stopped and got some ice cream to keep us cool. We might have also picked up some beer to drink as we enjoyed the view from our apartment one last night.

So, if you find yourself in France, spend some time in Marseilles and get lost. You won’t regret it.

Safe Travels and Happy Shooting!

 

 

Viva la France! Road-trip Foolishness Pt. 2: D-Day Beaches

Lawd, we actually did a road-trip through France.

When my friends and I rolled up into the rental car place and they asked where we were going and we told them, “Well, we’re going to go Normandie, then Tours, then down to Marseilles, then up to Chamonix, then over to Lyon,” I think the poor gentleman who was doing our paperwork was going to have a heart attack. As Americans, we frequently forget that driving for HOURS to get anywhere is not the norm in other parts of the world, especially Europe.

However, my homies and I have done this kind of travel before. So it wasn’t that big of a deal, however we did not insure the car and we were paranoid wrecks most of the time we were driving so, word of advice? Go for the insurance.

Anyway, once our three beautiful days in Paris were over, we got our rental and left the city. After driving for 3-ish hours and stopping for dinner at a place called Marina’s in the French countryside and speaking broken French to our waitress who spoke broken English and much pantomime and communal laughter, we arrived at our hotel where we passed out only to wake up at the crack of dawn to go to the D-Day Beaches.

For my friends who are paranoid like I was about entrance fees and parking: do not worry, there is so cost to drive to the beaches, park, and check it all out. We pulled right up to Omaha beach, parked in a lot, and walked around. The only thing we had to pay for was admission to the Operation Overlord Museum (which was pretty informative and I totally recommend.) There was no admission fee to the American Cemetery.

When we arrived in the morning, there were already people at the beach, sunbathing, swimming, building sand castles, and doing normal beach-things. At first I was deeply unsettled by this, because I was taught in school how many Americans died on that very beach, and it didn’t seem right that people were playing in the same spot where there was so much blood, the ocean turned red.

But, the ground didn’t feel haunted. I’ve been to places where grave atrocities had been committed– Dachau Concentration Camp, World Trade Center Ground Zero, to name a couple– and at those places, everything felt wrong. The energy was off, like the land and air had the horrible memories permanently imprinted into them. But at Omaha beach, those feelings were absent.

And I firmly believe it was because of the children playing and the families relaxing. The people that died on that beach not so many years ago died so that their loved ones and their legacies could have fun on a beach on a sunny August day. Instead of leaving the beach as an empty memorial, it has become a place of enjoyment. The ground holds memories of violence and bloodshed, for sure, but it also has the memory of fun afternoons and laughter.

We walked the entire length of Omaha and ate lunch at a restaurant that had all kinds of D-Day Paraphemalia, such as an Operation Overlord coloring sheet (lol seriously) and I wonderful picture of Eisenhower. In true deo-fashion, I took pictures. Also, brie on pizza is a terrible idea, I do not recommend it.

After our adventure down the beach, we walked all the way back, bought some fruit, and checked out the Overlord Museum and the American Cemetery. The museum was, admittedly, really cool. There were dioramas, maps, figures, historical artifacts, actual tanks, and lots and lots of information. My brain was mush by the end, but I learned so much and had a fun time of it. Well, as much fun as a person can have while learning about a harrowing topic like WWII.

Speaking of harrowing, after the Overlord museum, we visited the cemetery and spent a good chunk of time there, walking among the graves and thinking about the sacrifices made by the brave men and women buried beneath our feet. It was a beautiful day, not too warm, and the cemetery was honestly beautiful. The most emotional part of the day was when someone played Taps. My friend Sean and I just stood there for a long while, listening.

Visiting the Beaches of Normandy was something I had always wanted to do. I grew up as a history buff and read so much about the D-Day Invasion in school that I knew I needed to visit its hallowed grounds one day. Honestly, I never thought I’d get the chance to, that it would be one of those goals that would elude me. It seems like a silly thing to consider as I sit here writing about how I was just there, but the feeling must come from knowing about places of great historical significance and feeling as though they are inaccessible, almost fictional. I’m pleased my friends were willing to visit with me and contemplate the ground we walked on.

Safe travels, and Happy Shooting!

Adventures in Thailand: Chiang Mai

If you ever go to Thailand and you want to see temples, go to Chiang Mai.

This city in northern Thailand is just an hour plane-ride from Bangkok, and is home to over 43 temples. They also have HUGE night-time weekend markets, which are full of life and fun.

My cousin and I spent 4 days in Chiang Mai, though one of those days was spent playing with elephants. The first day we were there, we checked in to our hostel and immediately got lost searching for temples to explore. Like, seriously lost, so lost that we just kinda gave up and walked in any old direction– and we found lots of cool temples in the process!

On one of our temple-exploring adventures, we got caught in a torrential downpour. A young monk invited us inside and we watched television with him– Kawpkoon-ka!

The temple we were aiming for was Wat Chedi Luang, which is a giant complex with the old temple in the center, which is ruins. It was really beautiful, and while we were there we heard chanting coming from inside one of the newer complexes– there was a ceremony happening, and we were able to sit and watch for a bit. I wish I knew more about Buddhism to tell you what it was we were watching, but I can describe it to the best of my ability and maybe some of my Buddhist followers can teach me a thing or five:

There were about five monks, all sitting and holding onto a white string, which was quite long. There was a statue, a Buddha, that someone had brought in perhaps to be blessed? After the ceremony they loaded it onto the back of a truck and sprinkled water on it, so maybe.

It was super dope to see.

Chiang Mai isn’t a huge city like Bangkok, and it is surrounded by super old walls on all 4 sides. It’s such an awesome, historical place, and my cousin and I got lost numerous times–and every time we did, we found something amazing. One evening, when we got so lost we hailed a tuk tuk to take us back to our hostel (gosh, we’re terrible,) we saw a festival going on and asked the driver to please drop us off there instead. It was a cultural festival, representing different dances, music, and performances from the different northern provinces of Thailand. Best accidental discovery ever!

There were also a LOT of pigeons hanging out by the stage.

I mentioned earlier that Chiang Mai had some delightful night markets– we went to the Saturday Night Market, and spent hours getting lost wandering around, looking at the wares. There was a combination of typical tourist trinkets, food, and some original handmade gifts. One of my favorite stalls was selling very unique and very gaudy sunglasses– think lots of rhinestones, flowers, cat ears, etc!

There was a lot to do in Chiang Mai, and I could probably write a book all about it, but I’ll leave you with this: GO TO CHIANG MAI YOU WILL NOT REGRET IT I PROMISE. Even if you don’t have a plan, go, because I can 1000% assure you that you will find something absolutely incredible.

Safe Travels and Happy Shooting!

 

Adventures in Thailand: Bangkok Pt. 1

I’ve been in Thailand for nearly a month now, and it’s been amazing. Thailand is such a beautiful country (if scorching hot in the month of June,) and there is no shortage of sights in the capital, Bangkok.

Currently, I’m staying at an apartment I rented out for the month through AirBnB. I’m location east of the center of the city in the Phra Khanong district (are they called districts here? neighborhoods? uhm?) which is a little ways away from the Imperial Palace and the famous Reclining Buddha. However, the BTS SkyTrain is located just down the street from me, so I just hop on that to get wherever I wanna go.

My first week here was spent exploring the area where I live and the Siam area. Siam has a HUGE shopping center and the Bangkok Art and Culture Center, lots of people, and lots of interesting spaces to photograph. I especially adored the BACC, which had floors of contemporary art (my fav.)

I also went to the famous Chatchuak Weekend Market, on the city’s north side. I totally got lost… Very, very lost. It took me two hours to find my way back out, probably because I wasn’t trying too hard. The market was awesome, with all the tacky souvenirs a person could possibly want. I took lots of pictures, haggled, and just got caught up in the sights and sounds.

Bangkok is a huge place and I’ve barely scratched the surface of it. I’ll be checking out the Palace and the more famous temples later this week, so keep an eye out!

Safe travels and happy shooting!