So listen, my wife and I spent two weeks in an apartment in a small town called Praiano, Italy this summer, and I also started a new job. These are the two things that have defined my existence for the past five months. Because nobody wants to see pictures of my new job, I’m going to share only a sampling of the 600+ shots I took while immersing myself in the most beautiful place on Earth that I’ve seen so far, the Amalfi Coast. There are so many stories hidden here in these pictures, and I promise I’ll get to them one day. For now, join me as I go to my happy place. I think you’ll like it there.
Still not convinced that France is for you? Are you worried that the Parisians just aren’t ready to accept that your grasp of French is about as strong as your understanding of Kantian ethics? Maybe navigating a large European city isn’t how you’d like to spend your time away. You’d rather relax, lay back, and take it all in without feeling as if you’re your missing out on something? Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you The Côte d’Azur!
Also known far and wide as the French Riviera, the “Azure Coast” is located in the southeast portion of the country where land meets the Mediterranean Sea. I can honestly say that I have never been any place more beautiful in my entire life. Everything amazing about European travel can be boiled down to a stay in this area of the continent. Do you enjoy warm ocean breezes? Check. Shopping? Check. Amazing food? Check. Friendly people? Check. The ability to visit other countries in a matter of minutes? Check. History? Mystery? Stone villages perched precariously on a cliff overlooking the sea? Check. Check. Check. In short, get your behind on the next plane to Nice (pronounce like niece), and start your adventure!
Seriously people, look at this pile of spices. Any country that is in love with spices enough to let you shovel them out of a bucket into bags of all sizes is alright with me! This shot was taken in an area of the city called Old Nice. It is, by all visual observations, wicked old. If I could afford to buy a house here I would do so immediately. No question, no thought, no debate. The streets of Old Nice are teeming with life, and the retail options are endless. On any given walk you can pick up dinner, have a belt custom made, stop by the artisan liqueur shop, and have a quick cup of coffee not necessarily in that order. While the people here are not as well-versed in English as the Parisians are, they are much more ready and willing to forgive your linguistic fumbling if you can forgive theirs.
Minutes away from the outskirts of Nice you enter the principality of Monaco. Big boats, big cars, and big wallets populate this tiny principality on the Mediterranean coast, as does the Oceanographic Museum, once run by famous oceanic explorer Jacques Cousteau. I only spent a could of hours in Monaco, and that was plenty. If you’re not a gambler or a shopper there isn’t a whole lot to do here, but it is a good place to get caught up in staring at exactly how much happiness money can buy (a whole lot).
Pictured above from top to bottom: 1) Monaco Oceanographic Museum 2) Quiet residential area of Monte Carlo 3) Yeah, that’s a mall.
I don’t know who this kid is, but he was really having fun throwing rocks into the Mediterranean. Who WOULDN’T?! Hello! It’s the MEDITERRANEAN! I can personally vouch for the fact that doing anything while on the beach of The Côte d’Azur is better than doing it at home. I would do your taxes for you if it meant I could do them with that particular body of water in eyeshot. I settled for tossing a few rocks in, too. Don’t worry, there’s enough to go around.
Are you convinced yet?
Even the view on the way home is amazing. Those are the Italian Alps, positioned perfectly to remind you exactly what you are leaving behind as you fly away. But you’ll be back. And, as always, let me know when you’re going. Maybe I’ll meet you there (but pick me up some balsamic vinegar just in case).
** Don’t forget – you can leave me a comment below, and check out my entire set of France photos on Flickr
Out of all of the places I have been over the years, I find that Americans in general have a fairly strong reaction one way or another to France and its culture. They either love it or hate it. There doesn’t seem to be any in-between. I think these feelings stem from a number of places; some are misconceptions strung together from other people’s stories, some are exaggerations, and some are based in truth (i.e. read he book Talk to the Snail by Stephen Clarke). Unfortunately it is the usually embellished negative experiences or simple misunderstandings of friends and friends of friends that keep some people from experiencing what I believe is one of the most beautiful countries in all of Europe. There is a feeling of national pride running deep within the veins of the French that has resulted in one of the most varied and intricate cultural experiences you can have on the continent, not to mention the food. Seriously, the cheese alone is reason enough to get there immediately. Don’t even get me started on the crepe stands. Or the open air markets. Bread!!!
In my experience, the French people in general are misunderstood. I have found them to be mostly helpful and willing to share their culture as long as you are willing to take a risk. Of course you’re going to run into some crabby characters, but that happens to me on a regular basis here in Upstate New York. It’s certainly not unique to France. Meanwhile, my French is terrible. I’m pretty sure I do that thing where I think I am pronouncing words with the proper accent but end up sounding akin to a German man with bronchitis. Either way, it is so true that making an attempt to communicate in the language of the country you are visiting, no matter how much you massacre subject-verb agreement, breaks down walls. There is only one time that I had a Parisian laugh at me as I made an attempt to ask for three peaches at a market, and in hindsight it was probably warranted and mostly good natured. In the end I got my peaches, he got his money, and I learned that I can take a little constructive criticism when it comes to asking for produce.
For me, traveling is about taking a risk. Sometimes that risk involves stepping out of your comfort zone and “bonjour-ing” instead of “hello-ing”. Give it a try. It’s not really as scary as you think. Ask me, and I might even go with you!
Note: The pictures below are from in and around Paris. Check out my entire France collection on Flickr, and stay tuned for a post about southern France and the Cote d’Azur.
Not sure you believe that there is actually such a thing as a Napolean Complex? Check out these pictures I took of his tomb inside Les Invalides. Even in death he wanted to be larger than everyone else around him. In fact, the tomb is designed so that you first have to look down on it from above, which, in Napoleon’s mind meant that everyone would have to bow to observe his final resting place. Awesome.
The French know how to do a lot of things with style, but if I someone told me that I could only do one thing in France it would surely be to eat everything in site. I don’t even like pickles and olives, and looking at this picture still makes me want to dive into these. There are outdoor markets that pop up all over Paris, and this one appeared right outside of our hotel on the first day we were there.
True, there are a lot of bizarre things going on in this picture taken in the town of Giverny near Monet’s home. Another reason I love France – even the livestock eat baguettes!! Also, inter-species lovin’! This is totally the French pig-ostrich version of the spaghetti scene from Lady and the Tramp.
Speaking of the Eiffel Tower, sometimes getting the shot means laying on the ground underneath an iconic structure while groups of tourists stare at you. But it usually ends up being totally totally worth it.
One of my favorite neighborhoods in Paris is Montmartre. Home to the Sacre Couer (seen lit up in the background) and the nearby infamous Moulin Rouge, this area of the city is defined by a more bohemian element.
Le Chat Noir, staring at you, thoughtfully, wondering when you’ll be back.
Often you hear about people having recurring nightmares. Sometimes they involve standing in front of a crowd naked or showing up to school and forgetting where they’re supposed to be. My recurring nightmare involves getting onto an airplane to head to some distant country and realizing that I have forgotten my camera. Seriously. I typically have this dream around the time I am getting ready to leave on a trip, naturally. It never fails. I wake up in a panic soon to realize that I haven’t left yet. That, of course, is met both with a feeling of relief and with the realization that I am a bit obsessive. I take thousands of pictures when I travel. My array of photography tools are constantly being rotated out of my backpack, and I rarely travel with less than three types of cameras. Additionally, before I leave on a trip I already have set in my mind which shots I am going to try and get with each camera. I don’t plan every shot that way, but you can be certain that I have already thought about how I am going to capture the big landmarks. Like I said, obsessive.
I set out to France as a chaperone on a school trip in April of 2008 with the above Polaroid photo collage on my mind from the moment I was asked to go. I had recently purchased a Polaroid Autofocus 660 from Ebay for $0.99 (no lie), and it was the first non-digital camera that I fell in love with. As soon as this clunky contraption arrived in the mail I was running around Saratoga taking pictures of anything I could. Nothing was off limits, and I was stared at wherever I went. Admittedly this got kind of expensive since Polaroid film at that point, before it was discontinued, was around $10 for 10 shots. Of course once they decided to stop making their instant film cameras and focus on digital, the 600 film became a hot commodity. Also, my heart broke, but that’s another story. I immediately stocked up. Whenever I saw it being sold I bought one or two packs. In the end I think I ended up hoarding around 20 packs of film, and I have been slowly rationing it from the crisper drawer of our refrigerator for the last several years. At this point I’ve got around 5 packs of expired film left. In my eyes that makes the above shot even more precious. It’s a relic.
I am including only one photo today because this shot of the Eiffel Tower is, above all, representative my most favorite photographic endeavor. Every time I look at it I am transported back to Paris on that breezy April afternoon, the sun just getting ready to set. I remember walking along the Champs de Mars, approaching the tower from a distance, and deciding to take a three tiered shot. The excitement of watching the photos develop was immediate, hoping that I got the exposure right because the film I had brought to France was limited. I remember the random stares I got from the people, tourists and natives alike, as I composed the three shots on my knees to remain as steady as possible. I didn’t care. Getting the perfect composition was the only thing that mattered to me at that moment.
Now, three years later, I couldn’t be happier with the final product. Out of everything I brought home with me from that trip, every little trinket or souvenir, this is truly the only one that matters. I have taken a lot of pictures since then, but none so far have knocked this one out of the first place position. Meanwhile, if you’ve got any Polaroid film laying around I’d be happy to take it off your hands.