Alone at a Table for Two

What I like the most about being someone that travels are the little stories and little things that pass through our lives that make things memorable. Places have the ability to mark us in ways that nothing else can, they leave their imprint upon our minds and more importantly our very soul.

On our last trip to Paris my wife and I had dinner at the 58 Tour Eiffel restaurant in the Eiffel Tower. Our birthdays are only a day apart so we thought we would celebrate in style and have dinner in one of the most Iconic places in the world. As we were enjoying our dinner my wife noticed a young lady around twenty five years old, sitting alone at a table for two. She was nicely attired in a brightly coloured sun dress. Her hair was nicely done, and the accents for her outfit were well thought out, and complimented her well. In short she was elegantly dressed for a warm April evening in Paris.

Her table was set, with two glasses of Champagne, white linens, shining silverware, and she was surrounded by the hustle and bustle of a very busy restaurant.  The atmosphere was nice but somehow she seemed sad, and it was my wife that noticed why that might be.

Propped up on a little stand was her mobile phone and on it could be seen a photo. The photo was of an older man, he was smiling in a pleasant way. He had grey hair and looked like a pleasant fellow. We couldn’t help thinking that this little vignette that was playing out was the result of tragedy. That perhaps there was a plan that had not taken shape, or a promise that could not be kept. Perhaps she was saying goodbye, to a father or grandfather and marking the end of her grief. We could see that she had been crying a little, she held a linen napkin at the ready.

In a way we were eavesdropping on a moment in time, a private time in a very public place. It is a moment that now lives on the minds of others. The moment is now a part of the place, it will live on in the young woman’s mind as the place where she said good bye. Paris was created by moments like this, in one place there is happiness and at the very next table there is sadness. There isn’t a street or a cafe that does not have its own unique story to tell, a story that is sometimes hidden from view. However, all that is required to read the story is to take a closer look.

Do’s and Don’t of being a Tourist and Other Tales From Europe

Ending's Beginning

If you’ve ever been standing in the Louvre looking at the Mona Lisa and had people push and step on you to use their selfie stick it may make you want to join the French wait staff and roll your eyes and say “touriste” in disgust.

On this European adventure there’s a few dos and dont’s that I’ve noticed to avoid being reduced to a stereotype.

1. Do have as much amazing coffee and pastries as you want because you will have all the walking to burn it off! Heaven!

2. Don’t ask European wait staff for things that they don’t have- and isn’t apart of their culture. Demanding ice or some condiment not common in Europe and being annoyed when they don’t have it is… uncouth. You’re on a different continent- embrace the differences.

3. Do wear nice clothes. Underarmour is okay for the gym or Target on a…

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The Metro is a Great Place to People Watch

I would agree with this … but then again all of Paris is a great place to watch people

Coffee and Check-Ins

Our main mode of transportation was by the Metro and RER.

It was amazing getting a glimpse into the Paris life. People watching on the train was still interesting. From my limited french I could tell that one fashionista was talking to someone about her dress options. Another boy was apologizing profusely either to his mom or his girlfriend. Another two businessmen were sitting across each other discussing euros and deals.

No matter what I wore in Paris i always felt underdressed. These people have everything, and even if they don’t they’re good at faking that they do.

I must have blended in well enough though because there were several people who confused me to be French.

We went to the Notre Dame Cathedral, Musee D’orsay, The Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, and even hopped on one of those open air buses where we toured the city. We ended up in…

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Names Etched in Stone

More than a couple of years ago I had the honour of going to a place that I consider to be sacred ground. I’m not sure how well known this place is in other countries, but for us Canadians it is a place that holds special significance. The place is now called the Canadian Vimy Ridge War Memorial. However 100 years ago it was called Hill 145. Some would argue that this is the place that Canada really became a country.

The opportunity to go to Vimy came up quit unexpectedly. it was a mater of 5 days from the time I received the call to having my butt parked on an aircraft bound for France.  I happened to have a passport already to go and the cash in hand so it was like the fates smiled upon me. I was amazed that I could get ten days off work on such short notice. The purpose for our visit to Europe was for my reserve Unit to take part in repatriations service for a pair of fallen comrades from the Second World War that had recently been recovered in Holland. While in Europe we were tasked with a number of parades and services. The Remembrance day service at Vimy on Remembrance Day was one of those tasks.

On the drive to the ridge the monument could be seen in the distance and it was a quite a site. The day was kind of cloudy, with sporadic drops of rain, however the temperature was climbing and I remember that I was surprised at the mild temperatures that we were experiencing considering it was early November.

Tomb of Unknown Soldier Vimy Ridge allrights reserved

Tomb of the unknown soldier Vimy Ridge

When we arrived, the first thing that struck me was the size of this grand and amazing structure. The second thing that struck me was the terrain and lay of the ground. The ground still bears the scars of that long ago conflict. The ground also still contains the dead from both sides, they are buried together under these rolling green hills.

We all formed up and conducted the service. The service was more poignant because just two months before to the day, the World Trade Center in New York had been destroyed by an act of war. We stood at attention while the piper and bugler played, remembering those that had gone on to fight before, while we thought about those that would soon be fighting in the war that came after. It was a very strange moment for me remembering those that gave their lives in a war that was meant to end war, and our nation was about to march off to war again.  Never in a million years did I ever think that I would be at Vimy Ridge on Remembrance Day, listening to last Post and a single Highland Piper play the lament. I would turn out to be one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

After the service we were met by a guide that took us on a tour of the tunnels that run underneath the ridge. The tunnels that housed the 4 Canadian Divisions before they went into the line. It was amazing seeing the remnants of all of the left over items, tables, chairs and old damaged rifles.

There is an interpretive center at the ridge a short distance away from the monument itself. Small items like souvenirs can be purchased here, there is also the ability to read about the battle and how it was fought and by whom. I had an opportunity to walk around the monument on my own to read the names of those that had fought and died in this place so far from home. You cant help but think about who belonged to those names and what they may have done had they not gone off to war for King and country.

Vimy Ridge Memorial

Canadian First World War Vimy Ridge War Memorial

I spent some time just reading the names and running my hands over them, and standing before the tomb of the unknown soldier. To me it is a solemn place that has seen its share of sorrow, yet it has the ability to inspire thought and a feeling of pride. If you are Canadian and you ever have a chance to go see this place  strongly suggest that you go. You will be sad but your heart will also stir with pride, you will shed a tear for the fallen but you will also never forget them.  I do not believe that there is another place that I know of that has the ability to stir so many different emotions all at one time.

Traveling and avoiding the scams

One of the things that is always waiting for travelers when they reach their destination  are those con artist that want to separate you, from your hard earned travel spending cash. One of the things that people usually overlook when they are planning a trip is there own personal security. Especially new travelers, naturally tend to look at the new and interesting places they are going to and usually leave caution, to when they are just about to leave.

One of the thing I like to stress is, “do your research”  on where it is you want to go. One simple thing, that can be done is to start paying attention to news events for that particular place. Most major centers have English publications and can be easily accessed via internet. I think it is always wise  to know the political and religious climate of places that I plan to travel to. Try to find out what social norms are for the place you are going, remember, you are going there to experience their culture. You are the visitor.

One of the ones I ran into in Paris was very clever and I didn’t realize I was being scammed until I was right in the middle of it. There is a tunnel that goes from the Arc de Triomphe under the multiple lanes of traffic and exits at the the Champs Elysees.  This creates a natural bottle neck for tourists and funnels them into a little gauntlet of teen-aged scammers that I am sure are handled by an older ring leader that is of to the side some place. The rush forward and ask you to sign a petition for the school for the deaf in perfect English. My daughter had already signed the petition before I could stop her, So rather than refuse the scam and get into some potential trouble, I gave them two euros to which they said that wasn’t enough, and that they preferred paper money.  I didn’t comply with their request, and beat a hasty retreat along the busy shopping street.

One other Item to watch for are the water sellers. These people are found at all of the major attractions in most major cities like Paris and Rome, So here is the scam, the bottles they use are often pulled from the trash and refilled with fountain water, from the fountains that are found all over these wonderful cities. My advise is to invest in your own water bottle and fill it yourself or purchase your own water. Never ever, purchase water from a guy that looks like he hasn’t bathed in years or has tapped on shoes, you wouldn’t do that at home so don’t do it when you travel.

The Next one I fell victim to was in Rome, It wasn’t a bad scam, and the women was rather pleasant. She had two birds that she would place on your shoulder and they would sing and whistle. Of coarse you need to take a photo of this so she then promptly asks for a donation. I really didn’t mind this one to much, it was a nice day and I was out for a stroll with my daughter in Rome.

The biggest thing that people can do to protect themselves is to be aware of there surroundings. These scams I mention here are just the ones that worked on me. There were plenty of others that didn’t. There are plenty of web sites out there that travelers post on about scams and things that they have experienced. The more things you know about the places you go the more safe you are going to be.

My family and I made ourselves aware of the possible scams that were out there before we traveled. It is because of this that they really didn’t affect our trip one way or the other. We did the research and became aware of what could happen before we went.