Two Orleans

Unintentionally, we adventured to both New Orleans and Orleans this year. It should come as no surprise that the OG Orleans, in Paris, was far more dignified.

 

Paris: Museums

Everybody said “you gotta see the Louvre.” But I don’t do crowded lines at museums. What I wanted to see from Paris was not just contained inside of a gigantic building. So we did a little research and decided to amble through the gardens and surrounding areas of the Louvre when it was closed, on a Tuesday. What a great idea. The building itself is gigantic, and reminded us a bit of the Vatican, the way it’s shaped like a U with a giant courtyard. Without the huge crowd, we also enjoyed the grounds and outdoor sculptures. Did you know they keep a LIVE GOAT chained in the ditch line to, I don’t know, keep the grass mowed? We’ll likely check out the Louvre whenever we’re back in Paris, but we didn’t want to spend a whole day in one spot this time.

We did discover many people preferred the Musée d’Orsay, because the crowds were smaller and the old train building housing the works is cool. We agree on both counts. It was a nice walk from our apartment in Invalides to the museum, where we spent a couple hours enjoying the goods, and we were done by lunchtime. Perfectamundo.

UNESCO

Through our travels, we seek out different geographies, people, cultures, languages, customs, and histories. It’s how we learn about the world … what makes us different, but what also unites us in humanity. I was both thrilled and broken-hearted to see the world HQ of UNESCO … devoid of our US flag. So Mr. Sickles and I decided we would represent our great nation. Get out and see the world, y’all, and do it with pride and respect for the nation you’re visiting.

We added three new sites:

Versailles

My favorite day trip from Paris was to the Palace and gardens of Versailles. Rather than jumping on the Metro, we grabbed an Uber from our apartment in Invalides because it was quicker and gave us a little more flexibility. I had vague knowledge of King Louis XIV’s pad before we got there … but I can tell you, having seen it firsthand, it’s no wonder the French Revolution occurred. I mean, damn. Life was good for French royalty. We purchased tickets online, which shaved off about three hours of queuing outside, downloaded the Palace app, and made a day of it.

Paris!

Mr. Sickles and I celebrated our 25th anniversary in June, but had a busy summer. Last week we finally took ourselves to Paris to celebrate, and man, did we have a great time. Normally when we travel internationally, it’s The Sickles Three, with our son. Or, it’s work-related with my husband’s job. This time, however, it was just the OG two of us, which meant that while we still hiked our asses off, we took the time to smell the roses and share a bottle (or two) of rose along the way.

We opted to stay in the 7th arrondissement of Paris, otherwise known as Les Invalides. The Eiffel Tower is there, as is Napoleon’s resting place. Our apartment was right across the street from the Hotel National des Invalides, which played a big part in the French Revolution.  We were around the corner from the international HQ of UNESCO, a guiding force for our world travels (we added three new items to our UNESCO list!). We relaxed. We drank fine wine. We reconnected. We did it up big.

Travel days were Sunday, Oct. 6 through Friday, October 11. Over the course of six days, including two occupied by large swaths of airplane and airport time, we logged 53.5 miles and 123,831 steps. Our biggest day was on Wednesday when we walked from our apartment to Musee d’Orsay, then to Montmartre and back (15.6 miles and 35,531 steps) and our easiest day was traveling home on Friday when we headed back to North Carolina (4.7 miles and 11.017 steps). Here are some glimpses of getting there, our view from the door of our apartment, and the ever-present (in that area) Eiffel.

Be Your Own Travel Agent

I’ve been troubled by news of the Thomas Cook Travel Company closing abruptly, by which “hundreds of thousands of vacationers were left stranded by one of the world’s oldest tour companies.” It bolsters my family’s long-standing tradition of managing our travels on our own.

When we first started traveling, around the time our son turned ten, family and friends couldn’t believe we opted to research, plan and book our own adventures. Surely we would miss out on the good stuff, or run into issues with local customs, or suffer from language barriers, or not figure out how to navigate, or … you get the idea. But I tell you: if you’re going to travel the world, or the US or even your hometown, you need to know how to do it on your own. There’s a freedom that comes from knowing how to travel. We think it’s a life skill.

We actually started testing the adventure waters when our son was eight, and the two of us hitched our wagons to my husband’s annual training weeks in DC. While the mister worked, our son and I fell in love with our nation’s capital. I picked the spots we’d visit, and because we had no timeline, he figured out how to navigate using a map and the Metro. And thus began our routine: I research and plan, our son navigates, and our husband is our enthusiastic adventurer.

A couple rules of thumb: we don’t pick countries that have scary things, like high kidnapping rates or banned travel warnings. I mean, other countries have travel warnings against the US, so keep that in perspective. When we pick a country to visit, we set Google alerts for a couple months ahead of time and watch the news cycles to make sure political upheaval isn’t happening, which brings with it its own set of traumatic issues. We try to travel using every form of transportation available (metro, subway, taxi, boat, fast train, etc.). We walk a city to really experience it. If we do tours, we charter a guide for the three of us rather than joining a big group deal. We learn about the world, and for me–a writer and a mother, and just a decent human–I’m fascinated by the things that make me the same as a woman on the other side of the world. It’s easy. I promise. Here are some resources we’ve found invaluable.

Travel documentation

  • U.S. Passport: everybody needs a passport, even if you never leave the lower 48.
  • Global Entry (GOES): if you travel with any frequency, global entry is your verb.
  • Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP): if you leave the country, you need to register with the State Department, because you never know when revolution will break out. Or a hurricane, or an earthquake. Seriously. If the shit hits the fan, I want someone from home to come looking for me … and not just my mom. Register your trip a couple months ahead of time, and if the State Department has any warnings or postings about your destination country, the system e-mails you.

Adventure planning

  • Lonely Planet: I know the Internet is vast and forever, but there’s just something unparalleled about holding a book and map in your hand. For every trip we take, I buy the corresponding Lonely Planet guide. I can highlight and dog ear pages, go back and read notes years later, use the info in stories, and share trips and itineraries with people who ask. There are a ton of guidebooks out there, so find one that speaks to you and stick with it.
  • UNESCO: because we’re interested in traveling to places where people don’t speak the same language, eat the same things, look the same as us, or look out at the same things we see everyday from the kitchen window, we seek evidence of the larger world. It’s always exciting to update our list!
  • National Geographic: I have a lifelong fascination and dedication to National Geographic. My dad got me a subscription when I was in third grade and I maintained it until about thirty years. It fueled my wanderlust and fascination with people on the other side of the world. Now NatGeo’s got all kinds of cool travel imprints, but nothing beats the monthly magazine for me.
  • Atlas Obscura: regardless of where I am or what I’m doing, weird shit finds me. It’s both a blessing and a curse, and something that has passed on to our son. We both decided long ago to go with it, knowing the universe doesn’t send anything our way we’re not prepared to deal with.

In short, be curious about the world. And find a way to experience it. Just because you don’t speak a language or look like the people you’re going to visit, don’t panic. Get a guide book, start easy with a country that speaks your language, then work your way up. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Only you know your limits, so push as far as you’re comfortable and be adventurous!

North Carolina: Southern Pines

We had another great photo adventure this week, keeping it fairly close to home (though we did venture into the abutting region) since our adventurous son sprained his ankle bouldering. We didn’t want to drive all the way into the mountains and not be able to hike, or head the other way to the coast and get caught up in anything Hurricane Dorian may have churned up. So we settled on Sanford, Pinehurst and Southern Pines.

One of our favorite places was the Sandhills Horticultural Gardens, on the campus of the Sandhills Community College. We ambled through the ten different garden spaces for about an hour and a half. Whoever goes through their landscape gardening program can only be successful, that’s for sure. While you’re there, swing by Betsey’s Crepes … I had a scrambled egg bowl with sausage and spinach, and the Marie Antoinette crepe (strawberries and Nutella). Because, #Adventuretime!