Baton Rouge hits Paris!!!

This city.

J'aime Paris de tout mon coeur!!! 

Oh my gosh, this city.

Paris is completely fabulous and unexplainably mesmerizing. I can not even name specifically what enamored me the most about this city. Beautiful, nearly ancient, H.U.G.E. With a lofty 10 million people floating around in every direction, speaking god knows how many languages, off to the next stop. The place just sort of scoops you up and carries you along. Like a leaf in the wind. 

From the light 70 degrees with a breeze to the endless most darling bakeries with their endless amounts of bright, delicate pastries to the perfect undersized $5 latte your mouth could taste. It was every little thing that I fell in love with. Being a tiny, little speck winding down road after road of beautifully erected Parisian buildings with their bright, boldly painted 300 hundred year old doors. The essence essentially takes you by the hand and wisps you away... everywhere we went and everywhere my eyes landed upon I fell completely in love. 

We did all the mandatory touristing with stops for croissants, eating the perfect french fries, taking the metro then hoping a bus then getting lost on the metro line and back onto a bus. We read the maps and we still got lost. But it didn't matter a bit to me because I WAS IN PARIS and that was all that mattered. I soon found out my husband didn't have quite the same affinity as I did and was kindly appeasing my every whim instead and less interested or enamored but that didn't matter either cause I WAS IN PARIS and I WAS IN LOVE. 

I have to say I am very thankful for the Parisians love for all things carbohydrates. I felt very at home in their endless street cafes dripping with glass cased delicacies and mouth watering deliciousness. And Nutella!! Don't forget the Nutella. I could have just eaten for three days and not at all cared cause you can walk twenty blocks to the next restaurant and have legitimately earned those next thousand calories. It was bliss. We ate lots of meals that contained French fries. When in Rome... or Paris, I mean. 

Did I mention that everything was tiny? Like Parisians must be half the size of most Americans because all the tables are TINY and all the elevators tiny, too. The cars, tiny. The beds, tiny. Showers, no space there. I suppose it's a European thing because when we traveled to Italy it was compact everywhere we stayed as well. Anyhow, it makes for some pretty interesting moments when your hubs who doubles as a rugby player squeezes in these tiny spaces. Below was the lovely elevator that made this quite a reality within our first hours there.

The first day was the Eiffel Tower and you would have been mistaken that it was the only thing to see in the entire city by the masses of people gathered under it's gigantic beams. We explored nonetheless. Ate french fries and stalked the owners of sweet furry Frenchies. Well, I stalked them. John Robert watched.

We did the boat tour of the city and chose the bottom deck to hear the history over the top for seeing it. Well that allowed for me to fall deeper into the Parisian Love Rabbit Hole. The Seine was magical and I would never have thought I would have gone nuts over any place in the world over a river but- check, done. 

The riverbank just screams romancing as it is strewn with cafes and walkers and onlookers and history. History everywhere you can possibly see. Nothing is under 100 years old unless you count the snack carts. You can't help but to fall into it's mystic ways and let the city keep carrying you away. 

Love was EVERYWHERE. Not just a little here or a little there. No. There were lovers absolutely everywhere. It was not uncommon to turn around and see couples holding bodies (not just hands) and be in the midst of hundreds or thousands yet no one was concerned in the least. They were all just madly in love and loving it. We saw weddings being done, lovers chasing each other, boyfriends holding girlfriends, and everything in between.  

I believe we stopped at about 27 or so of these gigantic doors. They were all over the city, on every building imaginable and they were magical. Everything about the architecture wooed me. It was massive and beautiful and endearing. I could have spent days just wondering the city and looking at one concrete building after the other. My travel photography little self was in pure heaven! 

John was less amused as you can see as I asked him to stand here or there and look this way or that way. This was the street corner in front of our darling hotel, the lovely Best Western, we went real American there. And just behind Johnny was the best, little Parisian bakery one could ever lay her eyes on. And we went there all three, almost four, days. 

And the Lourve. The reason for my trip. The apple of my eye. The beat in my heart. Oh, how I adored the apartments of Napoleon. How expansive the entire structure was, it just swallowed you up and spit you out on the opposite side of town. It was remarkable and lengthy and breathtaking and I would live in it's basements and wash windows if I could. 

Where Lisa resides. I was blown away at the masses that flocked to her. Unimaginable. I had to elbow my way to the front and then weasel through with my hand held above heads in front of me to even get this close. All for an 2'6 by 1'9... that's literally 30 inches by 21 inches. That's quite a masterpiece. And she wasn't even smiling! 

And the bike riding... My favorite thing to do in all the whole world. I wish Johnny Robert would have appeased me some more and let us rent some bikes to do some exploring but to no avail. Can you believe they had random bike racks with rental bikes throughout the city that you could use and return to other bike racks throughout the city?! My love for Paris grew at just that. Goodness. As I said, everything about the city was fantastic. And we honestly didn't meet one rude Parisian. Not one. 

The lock bridge was our next stop. Which there were three of not a just one. Hmmmmm. The city is actually deciding what to do with these infamous bridges that are causing massive riverbankment issues. At least they are pretty for now and covered with people's declaration of love for another. 

The open air markets. Swoon!!! Everywhere, might I add. Cheese, fresh meats, veggies from gardens!!! And we walked there because they were in every nook and cranny of the city. Goodness... I have to stop. If I think on it too long I get this deathly bitter jealousy.

Gypsies singing on street corners. Not so envious of this but it was quite charming. 

Men playing their instruments and hearts out for hours at a time. 

The meters, the street corners, the metro, the hundreds of languages all around you... The all of it!!! I can't take it. The whole dang city was magical!!!  I hate that it's an ocean away.

We got our share though. Indeed. 

But we did all that we could and saw all that we could see and I pray that one day I will be able to return and spend twice as much time and eat three times as much food and walk half a dozen more blocks than I ever did this time around... 

Loved the Museum De Orsey. An old train station that was converted into a museum gallery in the 18th century. It was fabulous and not so overwhelming as the Lourve. I saw Van Gogh's Water Lilies (or one of his many) so that made my little heart happy. 

And of course we finished off our last day with crepes and fries at the open air cafe behind the museum. And then a twenty block walk back to the hotel and then another 20 block walk to our dinner spot for the night. At 9pm, in 70 degrees of breeze. In the greatest city in the whole entire world. 

The end. 

 

Baton Rouge hits African Soil

Africa and my travel photography adventure. 

Most certainly a place so dearly close to my heart I could call it for a cup of sugar. It's a huge pot of your mama's best gumbo; filled with every kind of delicious thing. I have gone once in 2004, 2006, 2007 and spent the year there in 2008 and then topped off 2009 with not one but two trips within the same year. It was a blessing of a year that 2009. Oh, and I can't forget about my time there in 2012 to help with the Christmas parties when I almost got arrested for smuggling drugs aka Calcium. That's another story entirely but the moral is don't put your 8 different vitamins in little ziploc baggies and then run your bag through customs security in a foreign country. 

But back to 2008 which was specifically associated with the church I belong to, Healing Place Church. I always had a love of travel and exploring but upon finishing my internship there in 2007, the team asked if I was willing to head abroad to help start a Healing Place campus and LIVE in Swaziland, Africa for most of the year. 

(Hands down one of the best years of my life btws)

You hear Swaziland and you're like, "that can't be a real place or is that like DisneyWorld but with Swazi in the front" ... it just sounds funny.... But it's far from any sort of idea you might have in your head. I bet all of Africa is in fact; because most people think of the National Geographic channel with loads of chocolate people with rings in their ears the size of silver dollars and tiny pieces of cloth covering the private parts of their bodies. And that is true for some parts of Africa but it's not for most of the parts. Swazi, as I tend to call is, is a place uniquely it's own and upon visiting it bestows a certain something special for everyone differently. For me, it was bliss. 

So my time there this year was trifold: John Robert needed to see what makes this little girl's heart beat, I needed to hug some necks that I have been missing and we needed to visit some of our family who moved out there earlier this year, Leah and Patrick aka the most fantastic hosts you could possibly think of. Everyone should go visit them just so you can see how impeccable their "taking care of people" skills are. 

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As a friend of mine said, "we burnt a lot of calories with them"... our first full day with them ended with a hike not far from where they live in Nelspruit, South Africa. Day three we headed to the land of Swazi land and were fortunate enough to meet with friends along the way. When we took pictures with Basil, the boy below, all the guys wanted to make guy faces so this was the result. 

The next visit was with a dear friend and sister, Bella. That girl's heart is a big as that bright, white smile. She can't help but to light up a room. I was teaching her my dance moves here which she was not terribly interested in. As a sort of mentor to her when I lived there, she got used to my shennigans. 

This one below is so special. It has my African mama, Make (pronounced Ma Ga) Nuxmalo. When I met this gal she was actually working at the very center we are standing in front of. It's called the Golden Mile and it's one makeshift stall after another with the finest, hand-crafted African goodies your heart could desire. This woman made my stay in Swaziland brighter than the noonday. She is endlessly happy and filled with a natural joy that jumps right off of her and onto you. She became one of the pillars of our Healing Place there because of her insanely perfect personality and unique care of the children's ministry. 

We were super fortunate to be able to connect with the Children's Cup projects that Leah and Pat and the whole Cup team are apart of that side. Cup is a NGO that aids orphaned and vulnerable children in Africa by providing food, education and medical attention to little ones in desperate situations. Cup's goal is to partner with the local church to transform the communities they work within. Pat and Leah are two of a 30 something plus team over there. 

The Carepoints are where all the connection happens for Cup within the community. These small hubs facilitate the items I listed above to serving the children in need within the area. Our time was spent at Manghadadhfjain (made up that spelling but it's pretty close to the real thing). We were visiting Jessie Bo, one of the Cup team members and nurses on the field. Her work there is coming up to year seven soon and she couldn't be more passionate about it. Below is Jessie with one of the girl's from her Carepoint. 

Lots of kiddos come to play at the Carepoint. This is their one place to get one meal a day- most don't get much to eat- education and medical attention. 

Aside from the awesome breaded man to the right, those ladies to the left are the heartbeat of the Carepoints, the cooks. These women spend hours a day preparing "pap and beans" for the children for when they get out of school (essentially grits and beans). 

This was too adorable not to post?! 

We ended that day at Leah and Pat's house, our divine hosts. They planned a little soirée in honor of John and I with new friends and old ones. It was grand. It's times like those that make your world go round- being with loved ones, making new memories. It was the icing on the already perfect cake of our time in Africa. 

The pic above has the Cup team all apart with Pat and Leah in the middle, Blache to the right of them (also on the Cup team and South African herself) and Chris Ladd to the very far right whom is also on Cup's team that side. 

So as a wise friend of mine said, "we burned a lot of calories together". Ha!! But trust me, hiking in Africa is like these Baton Rouge people feel about Tiger football for me. It was less that 70 degrees most days and way too many mountains to venture upon.

Little tid bit of info, I actually hiked this one barefoot because I forgot my teeny shoes and only had flip flops which were not working terribly well. Both flop and flopless made for an even more authentic hike about. Other side note, all the Afrikaners let their kiddos run around without shoes. They say it doesn't bridle their childlikeness. I say ouch.  

So that was the gist of our time in South Africa. It was terribly too fast but filled with all sorts of richness and the greatest of friends.