Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel
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I had a plan for the Louvre Museum in Paris. According to the museum’s website, nearly six million people each year view some of the 35,000 works of art displayed in its 652,000+ square feet of exhibition space. Because most of these six million want to see the museum’s most famous lady, the Mona Lisa is surrounded by crowds much of the time. Like everyone else, I wanted a first-hand view Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, but I hate crowds. Even the thought of being trapped in the midst of a jostling, jockeying throng, bombarded on all sides by people’s energy, makes me positively ill. Hoping to avoid the cattle call, I opted to leave the lady with the enigmatic smile for last, right before closing time.

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Richelieu wing of the Louvre Museum, with corner of the famous glass pyramid that serves as the main entrance of the museum

Inside the famous glass pyramid I descended to the main entry hall, already choked with tourists at 9 a.m. Hastily, I grabbed a map and fled into the Denon Wing on the lower ground floor, which was strangely bereft of traffic. At the end of a long gallery filled with Northern European Sculptures I came face to face with Saint Mary Magdalene, a unique early 16th century wood sculpture finished in polychrome. According to legend, Mary Magdalene was a repentant sinner who lived a life of seclusion in the cave of Sainte-Baume, clothed only by her hair. Every day the angels raised her up in the sky to hear the heavenly chorus. Read More

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People describe my lifestyle in many ways. I’ve been called a digital nomad, a location independent travel writer, perpetual traveler… even an extreme telecommuter. Whatever you call it, living a nomadic life with no permanent base is emerging as a new trend around the globe. Recognizing this growing movement, Travel and Escape TV, Canada’s Travel channel, decided to document nine travel bloggers (including me) who gave up their homes to wander the world, and the reasons that drove us to make this choice.

The project was released a couple of days ago and the interviews are truly fascinating. If you’ve ever considered chucking it all to travel, or if you’re just curious about the life I lead, check out their video series they call “The New Nomads.”

Can’t view Travel and Escape’s YouTube video about digital nomads? Click here.

If you enjoyed my story, I’d appreciate it if you’d share it around to your friends and through your social circles. T+E is offering a prize of $1,000 for the video that has the most views between now and noon on March 29, 2013. Travel writing doesn’t earn me much money, so I’m always just barely scraping by and that extra grand would sure come in handy!

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It didn’t have a great view. I slept on a click-clack sofa bed that was little more than an Ikea futon and the kitchen was the size of a postage stamp. But the location of my little vacation rental apartment in Paris more than made up for its minor shortcomings.

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Living room/bedroom of “Opera Bohemia” vacation rental apartment in the 9th Arrondissement in Paris

The longer I travel, the more I strive to connect with the culture of every destination I visit. One of my secrets for accomplishing this has always been to haunt coffee houses, where I meet locals rather than other tourists. On this trip to France, I added a new weapon to my arsenal when I accepted an offer from HomeAway.co.uk, the UK’s number one holiday rentals site. HomeAway connects private property owners with vacationers around the world who enjoy the freedom and value of a holiday rental home over a hotel. I jumped at the chance when they offered to put me up in  an apartment located in a residential Paris neighborhood, where I would be more likely to have a local experience. Read More

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I frequently travel solo to developing countries in the remotest corners of the world without the least bit of fear, but when it came time to visit France I was totally rattled. I don’t speak a word of French, but the inability to speak the local language had never bothered me before, yet every time I thought about my upcoming flight to Paris, my stomach lurched. For advice, I turned to my friend Heather Cowper, who writes the travel blog Heather on her Travels, since she is based in England and has traveled extensively in France.

“I’m really worried, Heather. I don’t read or speak the language and I’ve heard the French can be so rude.”

“The French, especially Parisians, are a very reserved people. Just remember to start every conversation with ‘Bonjour Madame‘ or ‘Bonjour Monsieur.’ If you do that, you’ll be fine,” she insisted.

A few days later I arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport and boarded the Roissybus for the city center, relieved to find that signs were in English and French. Less than an hour later the bus pulled up next to the Palais Garnier opera house. I hefted my backpack and small rolling bag down the steps and looked around for the Opera Metro station but it was not immediately visible; I had no idea which way to walk.

Bonjour Monsieur,” I said to a man standing nearby. “Do you speak English?

Non,” he replied, shaking his head.

I was approaching a second person when man walked up beside me and, in perfect English, asked if he could help.

Yes,” I said, relieved. “I’m looking for the Opera Metro station.” To my surprise, the gentleman grabbed my suitcase and led me to the entrance of the Metro, then pressed a ticket into my hand. I reached for my wallet but he stopped me. “No it’s my pleasure. Welcome to Paris.” With a smile he turned and disappeared into the subway tunnel.

This scenario was repeated time and again over the next two weeks. That same evening I realized my hotel was within easy walking distance of the Eiffel Tower, so I headed out for my first look at Paris by night. Laser lights beaming from the tower provided a ready road map and twenty minutes later I stood on the grassy esplanade, gaping at the iconic Paris landmark. Goosebumps broke out on my arms as I tipped my bead back, taking in the entire length of the illuminated tower, as high as an 81-story building. I made my way past entwined couples to its base, where I rode the elevator to the top and soaked in the spectacular views of the City of Light.

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I spent my first night in Paris at the Eiffel Tower, more magnificent than any photo can convey

Finally, exhaustion set in and I started back to the hotel, but I soon realized I’d been so in awe of my surroundings that I’d paid little attention to my route. By the time I’d walked four blocks I was hopelessly lost; nothing looked familiar and I had no map. Again I begged for help. The owner of a small gift shop whipped out his mobile, entered the name of my hotel, and his GPS displayed the route. He didn’t even try to sell me anything.  Read More

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Jagged chunks of crumbling slate threatened to turn my ankles as I made my way to a pillar marking the easternmost tip of Spain. Just a few miles away lay the artsy village of Cadaqués, but the vista that spread before me felt like the end of the world. Rocky fingers of land dipped into a cobalt Mediterranean rippled by blustery winds. Gusts climbed the high ridge upon which I stood and whipped my hair, stinging, into my eyes. Renegade clumps of coarse grass had managed to pierce the scree but offered precious little relief from the relentless gray of Cap de Creus Natural Park.

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Natural coves formed by rocky peninsulas on the easternmost tip of Spain, in Cap de Creus Natural Park

I scanned the desolate landscape, thinking that this must be why the region was named Costa Brava. In Spanish, the word costa means coast. The word brava has several meanings, but in this case it is most often translated as wild or rugged. It is an apt description for this 400-million year old mountain chain comprised of mineral-rich metamorphic rocks that have been deformed, enfolded and sheared by geologic forces and plate tectonics, making for a spectacular landscape of exposed gneiss, schist, and slate. Read More

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Mercè Barceló never expected to own a hotel. At university she studied philology, which qualified her to teach English and German. For years she tutored private language students until, in 2006, her world changed forever.

My big changes came when I decided to divorce,” she explained. “I have a very open personality, as my mother. We always have people in our home…and we always talk and are very spontaneous. So I thought this (hospitality) business could fit in my world.

Are you from this town?” I asked.

I grew up here. This was my house.

I looked around, trying to imagine Niu de Sol Hotel Rural as a private home. The rear sitting room, with its old brick fireplace, had been her parents’ original house. Mercè swept her hand around the dining room where we sat chatting. “This was the new house I built with my ex-husband. When I decided to divorce, it was also a (way of) not keeping memories of my past life.

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The siting room is a favorite spot to curl up with a book

Initially, Mercè converted only the front of the building but soon after completing construction her father suffered an embolism and could no longer climb stairs. She helped her parents relocate to a ground-level apartment, then converted the rear portion of the building, increasing the size of the hotel to its present 14-room configuration. Her plan was risky. With only three restaurants and a bar that offers live jazz music each Friday night, the town where Niu de Sol is located, Palau-Saverdera, is anything but a tourist mecca. Yet this sleepy village, located in the exquisitely beautiful foothills of the Costa Brava region in Catalonia, Spain, offers something more precious than excitement.

People who come to me want to be near the coast but a little bit interior. They are searching for a charming hotel in quiet village.Read More