For the last two weeks of Ramadan this year, I left the country for the first time since I arrived in March 2010. I had a direct flight from Marrakesh to Paris. I took the Paris Metro (beautiful thing, that) to Montmartre, where I met my father, sister, and brother. We proceeded to play tourist in Paris like nobody’s business – I do believe I have never gone sightseeing like that before in my life, and possibly will never again. Touristing is exhausting work! We of course hit the Arch de Triomphe, Tour Eiffel, Notre Dame, Sacre Cour, (outside of the) Moulin Rouge, Catacombs, Louvre, Orsay, Pompidou, Vincennes, Versailles… and more. I think my top three favorites were the Musee d’Orsay, Vincennes, and the Catacombs. Vincennes I loved for the crazy historical stories and also for the dog that rescue workers pulled out of the (dry) moat (how the heck did he get in there?). The Musee d’Orsay I loved for its impressionists, particularly Camille Pissarro and Jean-Francois Millet (not to say that the Centre Pompidou and the Louvre didn’t also have incredible art). As for the Catacombs, we were incredibly lucky to make it in! We were among the last to be let in on our last day in Paris, and a staff member was behind us with a flashlight keeping us moving so that they could close up. Even so, we could not fail to be impressed by the sheer number of bones under the city, thrown into haphazard piles slowly growing stalagmites behind carefully crafted femur and skull decorated barriers. Neither here nor there, but the street musicians/artists/dancers were exactly as you would expect them to be (read: glorious), and I’m not quite yet over the way salads seem to come with little bits of toasted bread with cheese on top. Divine.
Paris had been a lovely addition to what the holiday was originally planned to be – my dad and I had started talking about the possibility of a walking tour in Europe somewhere, and had settled on a walking tour of the Cantal volcanic uplands region through The Enlightened Traveller. So after a week in Paris, my siblings went back to their obligations in the states and my dad and I headed down to Murat by train. We had an absolutely beautiful first day climbing up to the Plomb du Cantal and experiencing our first of many somewhat cautious forays through a herd of Salers cattle (Salers and Aubrac are the two main local breeds of the region – and they make some mighty fine cheese). Unfortunately, the remaining three days of walking were spent largely in the rain. The first day unnerved me a bit, as there was lightning and we were doing a ridge run with hiking poles, but the second day I just found astoundingly picturesque as we were crossing moors every bit as misty as if we had been placed in Wuthering Heights. I may have even been disappointed if all of our moor crossing had been done in the sun. Unfortunately, the weather got really nasty as we started to ridge run towards Puy Mary, the high point of the region, and we were forced to turn around (a good call, as I couldn’t feel/use my fingers until I got in the hot shower a few hours later, and the weather never did clear up). Overall, I loved the fact that there was local food (with generous applications of cheese) everywhere we went in the region, the mountains were gorgeous (and GREEN, something I’m missing a bit where I am), the ubiquitous cow bells, and (mostly) getting by with the French I’d put some effort into studying the past few months. It was also nice getting to spend some time with my dad, who is not a habitual hiker but put up with the less-than-stellar weather like a champ. Someday I’ll have to return to see the view from Puy Mary – and perhaps eat a little more cheese.
(Particularly slow internet is preventing transfer of pictures. I’ll add some later, insha’allah)