This is a really, really, long blog entry and I still didn't add everything!
As our plane landed, there was a beautiful sunset viewed from my window seat. For this trip, there were four of us. Joe, Lakisha, and I flew together and the fourth person, Kevin, flew a different route and time to avoid a longer flight. We were excited. None of us have ever been to Egypt. However, we were going to spend ten days and nine nights here!
We were greeted at the gate by Ahmed, the manager of the company we chose to tour Egypt. Since Egypt is a mostly Muslim country and we do not speak Arabic, we decided to use a guide to maneuver around the country. He assisted us with getting our visa, luggage, and checking into our hotel. I don’t know if my travel mates inhaled a deep breath of Africa, but I sure did. I was breathing, sensing, and touching the home of my ancestors. I appreciated the blessing and connection I was feeling.
The next day was our first day of full touring! On the itinerary: Pyramids of Giza, Camel Ride, Sphinx, Step Pyramid of Zoser, Pyramids of King Titi, and Ancient City of Memphis. The weather was perfect, around 83° F! I can’t stand extreme heat and was thankful the temperature wasn’t on boil. With my eczema, I would have been one big walking rash. The sun was bright, white, with a yellow ring around it, and appeared closer to us than my view of it in Chicago. It was starting to feel magical!
We could see the pyramids from our hotel room. HOWEVER, nothing compares to seeing them up close. The closer we arrived at the pyramids, the more in awe I became. Africa has been a top contender on my Bucket List forever! There is sand as far as you can see at the location of the pyramids with the city of Cairo in the distance looking like a mirage. I can only imagine what it feels like to the inhabitants to have a huge reminder of their history visible every day!
We took a few photos of the area and was immediately bombarded by vendors selling almost everything for tourists. We purchased head scarfs and embarked on the back of camels for a closer examination of the pyramids. I won’t lie, I was a little nervous getting on the camel. I’m afraid of heights and falling. The camel is double jointed and sits on folded legs. It slowly rises from a few inches from the ground to a couple of feet in the air when standing. I named my camel, Lenny, after Lenny Kravitz and LaKisha’s camel, Lenny 2 (Come on now. You know that man is my celebrity crush!). Lenny 2 was VERY friendly. He kept inching his way towards me. I was pretty “dramatic” on several occasions but I enjoyed the ride once I stopped panicking from the height.
We arrived closer to the pyramids and our guide, Manar, provided insightful historical information regarding the pyramids. OK. I’ll admit this too. I was half-listening because I was busy taking photos (my MO the entire trip) and enthusiastic to be in Egypt. It took me at least a day to pay attention to our tour guides. You really can’t go with a large group if you want to truly enjoy Egypt. This is a place in which you must take your time to embrace the history and magnificence of it without being crowded and rushed around with a huge group.
After ogling the pyramids, we headed to Khafre’s Valley Temple and the Sphinx. As we walked through a corridor in Kahfre’s Valley Temple, I dropped a US dollar bill into the well in honor of my ancestors – much like spilling liquid as an offering before drinking it in reverence to their memory back in the US. We took the playful photos of kissing the Sphinx that all tourists take. The Step Pyramid of Zoser at Zaqqara is also a wonder to look at. It’s the oldest pyramid in Egypt.
Another adventure in itself is the interaction with the vendors. They are the most hustling people you will meet in your life! Vendors will make that money! The vendors will swarm around you like flies (The flies swim in insect repellant here. Our sprays, lotions and oils did not work!). Some of the vendors use the tactic of flattery by mentioning your Nubian skin color if you are of a darker hue. “Just like me!” “My sister!” Others will wrap something around you, walk off, and hope that you’ll buy it when you return in their direction. Many use the phrase, “No hustle!” They are aware that hovering around may lose a sale. Wherever I travel, I try to blend in to avoid any type of harassment and out of respect for the place I visit. However, these vendors are relentless. It was exciting bargaining with them. The plus was that they were willing to accept US dollars!
After leaving the Sphinx, we headed for lunch. As we passed a canal, we spotted a truck dumping oil in the canal! Yes! The truck was pouring the oil in like a cement truck about to pave a sidewalk! A little ways down, we noticed a man fishing. We questioned the guide about the type of fish in the water. She stated bass. As soon as we arrived at the restaurant, we started teasing each other about having "Canal Sea Bass" for our meal. Sure enough! Fish was on the menu. We started laughing and for the rest of the trip any fish we had was "Canal Sea Bass." The food was delicious. We then journeyed on to Memphis.
While riding with our guide and driver, I snapped a few photos. The city of Cairo has over 25 million inhabitants. There are many rows of apartments stacked on top of each building. Driving through the streets, you will see all types of modes of transportation: cars, buses, vans, horses with carts, motorcycles, and creative variations of all weaving in and out of traffic. I recall seeing one, maybe two, stop lights during our entire time in Cairo. The driving is insane! Driving through a one-way street is not unheard of in this city. Matter of fact, we experienced this ourselves and our reactions were hilarious! The constant beeping of horns is almost like a musical melody. For the residents of the city, crossing the street is like playing a game of Froggy but the inhabitants take it in stride. I videoed our attempt at crossing the street (with the help of a restaurant attendant) which is one of the funniest highlights of our trip! One day, I’ll put our Egypt videos all on one video.
In the city of Memphis, we visited the open-air museum of Ramesses II, one of the greatest pharaohs of ancient Egypt. The statue at this location is huge! The larger statue is lying flat inside of the museum. A smaller one is located outside.
We had extra time and visited a papyrus shop. Unlike the papyrus sold by street vendors, the papyrus from the shop is real papyrus and decorated gorgeously! A representative of the shop gave us a demonstration of the making of papyrus and how to distinguish real from fake. We purchased several. My budget was going out of the window already and we had been in Egypt less than three days.
Next up was an essential oil store (we visited two of them) with hand-blown glass jars to hold the oils. This store smelled fabulous! It smelled better than the perfume or candle section of a shop in the US. Once again, I dipped into the budget and purchased oils.
Afterwards, we stopped at a gold shop that created personalized cartouches. The proprietor studied the writing of hieroglyphics. Double letters are not used in creating one and silent letters are not spelled. For example, Lorraine. Only one “R” is used and the “I” and “E” are silent, thus not used. He also described my personality based on my first name and first initial of my last name. He stated that our names belong to us from birth and even if we changed it, we couldn’t change who we are. He nailed the reading of my personality. Yes. I had to have one! Later, I purchased one on our cruise ship and the spelling was off. I felt I had been cheated by the first shop owner. Later, I apologized to him when I had complained to our tour guide. When I'm wrong, I will admit it and apologize. However, I'm seldom wrong. He got that part of my personality correct too. Ha!
Another stop was a shop that sells Egyptian cotton and other items. LaKisha posed in a very beautiful dress and scarf. I purchased the softest t-shirts that I have ever felt in my life. The Budget is becoming “budget” with a small “b.” I took more photos of the street scenes.
The next day, we flew to Luxor and checked onto our cruise ship floating on the Nile River. The room was better than our hotel room. The food was basically the same for our entire stay and not worth taking a photo of. However, the experience was fabulous. The evening sky filled with stars is not a sight I can usually view due to being obscured by the city lights in Chicago. I became accustomed to the call to prayer heard from the boat and throughout Cairo. Planned activities included: belly dancer, male dancer, games, tea time, cooking class, and barbecue on deck. It also has a small gym, masseuse, and gift shop.
However, the highlights of being on the cruise ship were the very bold vendors rowing along the side of the ship and on dock tossing their goods onto the ship for a sale. If you like an item, you keep it and put money in a weighted plastic bag to throw back to the vendors. Vendors kept throwing their goods at me. I continuously told them I didn’t want it. I became frustrated and I tossed back an unwanted item. Unfortunately, I'm no Jackie Robinson. It fell in the water. The vendor was not happy with me! If looks could kill! However, it was fished out by one of the vendors on the boat. I felt guilty and eventually purchased a cotton dress with a peacock on it for my mother. It was an exciting experience bargaining with the vendors.
The following morning at around 4:00 a.m., LaKisha and I traveled by boat for a balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings in Luxor. I can literally say that I swam in the Nile when half of my body fell in the river while crossing onto land. The landing step and the land did not connect completely. The little gap not visible in the darkness swallowed my petite frame. Fortunately, I was grabbed quickly before the other half of my body fell into the river. Now, that I think about it, it was pretty funny and scary at the same time. All I could think of when I slipped was that a crocodile would grab my leg and pull me into the dark, swirling water. Everything happened so fast! My tour guide was more panicked than me. Not on his watch would a tourist fall in the Nile! The men used the light from their cell phones to look for the gap in which I fell between the boat landing and land. It’s a blessing that I didn’t fall completely in the river. They may not have found me until days later. The water is murky and dark too.
The balloon ride was my first and Lakisha’s second. My fear of heights didn’t overwhelm me. However, the bouncing and singing of the women on the other side of the balloon basket was working my nerves. They were so excited that they kept making the basket jerk. All I could do is hope that my tiny behind did not bounce out. I held onto the edge of the basket for dear life and pretended I wasn’t afraid. Once I became accustomed to the motion of the balloon, I enjoyed the sights. Looking down at the monuments, excavations and the city was magnificent!
We visited the temples of Karnak, Luxor, El Dear El Bahri temple of Queen Hatshepsut, The Valley of the Kings, and Colossi of Mammon. My spirit was dazzled by the enormous antiquities and the magnitude of their creations. The rest of this blog (with the exception of the visit to the Nubian Village and mosque) will consist of photos from the various places we visited. I loved the beautiful items in the alabaster store! The fish in Alexandria was the best and freshest fish I've ever had. The Egyptian Museum and it's artifacts were inspiring and breathtaking. We even found Shaq's missing shoe (just kidding).
One of the best experiences of our trip was visiting the Nubian Village in Aswan. Touring on the Nile River, we could see the colorful painted homes of the Nubian Village, much like the homes of Cuba or Mexico. As we exited the boat, we were approached by vendors. We managed to get pass them. However, we saw the cutest little girl around four years of age. LaKisha and I had to take a photo with her. Her father allowed us and she bashfully posed.
Next, we went to the village’s school. It’s located in a courtyard with other buildings and a large center yard. Our guide translated a few words to us stating that the Nubians of the village have their own language. The teacher we met spoke English. He also taught us a few phrases, the spelling and pronunciation of our names in his language. He playfully punished the men of our group if they were incorrect with their answers. Afterwards, we shopped in their village, LaKisha received a henna tattoo, and we were generously offered hibiscus tea in one of the homes. We had an amazing time!
We visited several mosques. We were required to remove our shoes and LaKisha and I covered our heads and any exposed skin. We walked around one of the mosque, Al Azhar Mosque, and peeked inside a chained door. An Imam approached us and let us in. More on that later.
As we exited from the Citadel of Salah Al-Din, we ran into several groups of children that bombarded us and wanted to take photos with us. Our guide stated that due to our skin color and that we had our heads wrapped, they felt a connection to us. It was an amazing feeling. Since LaKisha is in the education field and I write children’s books, we felt very special and loved.
The end of our trip had quickly approached and we were going to miss Egypt albeit very exhausted. Although LaKisha and I both had food poisoning (the guys were perfectly fine and eating well), I will definitely visit Africa again.
Egypt is now going through a disheartening period. Attacks are being made on mosques and churches in certain sections of Egypt. Violence is everywhere all over the world. The US has its share of upheaval as well. I sincerely hope that the people of Egypt, US and the rest of the world, will come to peace.
As an African-American (born in Chicago, Illinois) whose ancestors originated from Africa and other parts, I was asked many times from viewers looking at photos and videos that I posted on my Facebook page if I felt a connection or any spiritual enlightenment while visiting Africa. The moment I landed in Africa, I felt something. The excitement of visiting was overshadowed by a distant feeling. It felt like visiting your childhood home after living on your own for many years. It was my ancestral home but not where I made a home for myself and family. I knew I was welcomed in Africa. However, I was still a tourist. “My sister” or “My Nubian sister” as the vendors would say to me to remind me that I was family (or was it to make a sale). They would tell us that we were the same color as them. I knew that my home was in America. No matter how many times racists like to toss out the words “Go back to Africa,” I knew I was a visitor here in Africa. However, Africa felt familiar to my soul.
As we visited the various monuments and places throughout Egypt, the connection began to build. I saw images that looked like me. I saw people that could have been from various black neighborhoods in any city in the United States. As traveling mate Kevin stated, “He looks like he’s from Englewood in Chicago.” when describing one of the essential oil vendors. Several times, I saw little girls that looked like me as a little girl. I even saw a young man that favored my son. The bond was not only in the skin color, facial distinctions, but family support system that we witnessed, and I recall as a child.
Not too long ago, African-Americans embraced the concept of helping one another. Most of my budget went towards tipping for various services while in Egypt. Did we need both a driver and tour guide? Maybe not. Did we need two drivers and a tour guide to take us on a 3-hour ride? Maybe not. Did we need two porters to bring one missing chair to our room? Maybe not. Did we need two waiters to wait on the four of us while dining? Maybe not. Did we need to pay to enter the WC* and receive toilet paper for the toilet and drying of our hands (we took our own)? Maybe not. However, it all helped a man or woman support their family. I got the necessity of it immediately. The Egyptians were looking out for each other in the most unselfish way. If one got something, so did another.
I begin to wish that upon my return back home to America, I would see a reoccurrence of this tradition among my own people. The African-American community had flourishing businesses supported by African-Americans. However, many of those businesses don’t exist or failed due to lack of support. Many of them were destroyed by racists. Have you ever heard of Black Wall Street, Rosewood Massacre in Florida, or the Tulsa Race Riot in Oklahoma? Research them. I know many people in business (including myself) that have repeatedly stated that we wish we had more support from our own people – including family and friends. Sigh. Enough of that. Back to a positive moment.
As far as the spiritual connection, I felt it immediately. It intensified as we roamed among the tombs, temples, and museums. The calls to prayer heard often in Egypt were energizing because it appeared as if things were a little quiet or "still" at that moment. I inquired about the “birthmark” on many of the men’s foreheads. Our guide told me that the marks were bruises from the men bowing and touching their head to the earth to pray. I also saw and felt the references to Isis and the Virgin Mary. Research it.
I gently wiped tears from my eyes when an Imam prayed for us in a darkened prayer room he unlocked specifically for us. He asked to pray for us and it was the first time in my entire life that anyone asked to pray for ME. He did not ask for anything in return either. His act touched my heart in ways that will live with me forever. It didn’t matter to me that we were of different faiths or backgrounds. His acts of concern and welcoming were touching.
The United States of America will always be my home due to ancestral sacrifices by my people, my own sacrifices and love for it. However, Africa is my spiritual home. I breathed, touched, and felt the earth between my fingers. It was the most amazing experience of my life. I am exceptionally grateful for the journey.
Did you enjoy our trip as much as we did? Feel free to ask questions or leave remarks. Negative or spam remarks will be deleted. Visit Africa and when you do, respect it and the people.
*WC – The abbreviation for Water Close. Per our guide, the door is closed when you use the bathroom. I know. You are probably guessing another explanation for the bathroom abbreviation. We thought it meant Water Closet or Water Cooler.
You know who I am referring to by the mention of “purple” and “highness.” He mesmerized people with his singing, music, dancing, and those magnificent eyes. His name is Prince Rogers Nelson. I am not using past tense at this moment because his “friends” aka fans and estate have made sure that he lives forever. He may have left this realm on April 21, 2016. However, the musical and spiritual genius will never be forgotten. His Paisley Park estate has been turned into a museum, per the instructions of Prince, to be opened to the public for viewing.
As soon as the concert date was announced, I purchased tickets for the museum to correspond with the date of the concert. I highly recommend the VIP tour. If you go, you may as well do it big! Don’t be cheap with yourself! I booked a hotel (which I canceled later) near the first announced concert venue. Dernise, my Road Diva, and I stayed with relatives. I used a vacation day to be off work to stalk Ticketmaster to purchase our concert tickets for The Official Prince Tribute at the Xcel Energy Center before they were sold out. I was totally overjoyed to have tickets since the tickets sold out within minutes! We named it our Prince Road Trip! We drove six hours from Chicago to Minnesota. The entire time we were like teenagers.
For many of his friends/fans, the tribute concert was the beginning of accepting that Prince has moved on, and did not disappear to live happily on an island. The pre-concert event consisted of everyone in some form of purple: hair or clothes, in honor of Prince. Reporters were interviewing people. Radio stations were perched in their booths. Vendors were selling Prince souvenirs.
The stadium was filled with Prince’s fans from every corner. The concert brilliantly showed the magnificence of Prince’s gifts, his music and producing. The concert lineup was Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Anita Baker, Christina Aguilera, John Mayer, Morris Day & The Time, Doug E. Fresh, and many other people. We were thrilled to be in attendance of this memorable event. Anita Baker, Christina Aguilera, and John Mayer were no shows. I was a bit disappointed because I’m a fan of them. The other listed names performed marvelously. Morris Day & The Time performed one of my favorite songs, “The Bird.” They still got it! I had a huge crush on Jerome Benton back in the day but he wasn’t with the band. I later found out that he no longer performs with the group. Sigh!
Judith Hill tore up “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore.” She can sang! YouTube her! You can’t say enough about a performance from Stevie Wonder and Chaka Khan because they are always topnotch entertainers. At one point, Stevie Wonder, was overcome mildly with sorrow from missing his dear friend, Prince. Doug E. Fresh beat boxed in a way only he can and the crowd was joyous and rocking with him. Prince muses covered many of his songs. I could go on and on but that would be hard because the concert began at around 7 p.m. and lasted until approximately 12:00 a.m. We still wanted more and didn’t want it to end. It felt too much like a goodbye.
Dernise and I attended the museum the next day. Due to zoning issues, the museum was granted temporary use and we lucked up (blessed) into attending on one of the dates not cancelled. We parked in a parking lot in Chanhassen and a bus picked us up to drive us to the museum. Everyone was in a very calm mood but underneath it all just a tad bit nervous. We didn’t know what to expect. Although there are photos and videos of Prince’s estate all over the internet, many of us had never visited. We didn’t know how we would feel. Would emotion overcome us? Many people think it’s too soon from Prince’s passing and I understand their logic. However, since life is so short, I wanted to experience it while I could.
We exited the bus and waited in line for our turn to enter Paisley Park. While waiting, we were instructed that photos were not allowed and you can be banned for life from ever visiting again. One woman tried to sneak photos but the staff made her erase photos and any photos her boyfriend may have been attached to on social media. Our phones were sealed in neoprene cases that can only be opened by the staff. With the VIP tour, you can purchase a flash drive which can also be a great souvenir. It’s purple and silver. You can bring your own to take photos near Prince’s purple piano later during the tour.
Upon entering, you meet the mural with Prince’s eyes above the entrance. The upstairs is off limits to the public. The elevator in which he died is blocked off by a wall. It would have been inappropriate to have fans gawk over it. A white cage containing Prince’s doves is in view as you look up to the second level. Prince’s ashes are in a small box inside a miniature Paisley Park display in the center of the floor. Many people cried or tears flowed. The estate provided tissue for anyone that may have needed it. It was difficult looking at the ashes. His gold and platinum records are on some of the walls as well as murals of Prince and other musical acts.
His kitchen is located on the main floor too. It is set up like a small restaurant with two or three booths. We were told that Prince hung out in the kitchen on the sofa watching TV between sets. Many of the rooms are decorated very colorfully but tastefully done. Prince wouldn’t have it any other way. We visited rooms with his stage costumes. Although, he had a small frame, Prince was one sharp dresser and extremely attractive. Was it Jamie Foxx that stated he was gay for five minutes after looking in Prince’s eyes? We were told that he had a personal clothes designer.
Several of the rooms played videos from concerts, interviews, and movies starring His Purple Highness. Our tour guide led us into his office. We were told that it was left the way that Prince had left it. It included his unpacked suitcase against a wall from recent travel, sketches on his table, and his cat’s cage. Someone asked about the cat and was told that family members are taking care of the cat. Prince’s sister, Tyka, walked around speaking to the guests. She was the perfect hostess by allowing us to enter her brother’s world.
Security is tight! I peeked around a corner from one of the studios and I could hear security describing me (I was wearing a gold jacket) over their radios. It should have been roped off! I didn’t know I couldn’t peek in it. Again, when I went to the bathroom, I heard security describe me as I stepped away from my tour group. The various studios are definitely topnotch!
Every hallway has photos of Prince or his many gold and platinum records. Someone asked if the records could be played. The guide told us that the records are usually old records that may not have sold from another artist. The records cannot be put on a turntable and don’t work. Bummer! One hallway of photos begins with Prince’s musical journey to the present. The photos are fabulous because he was one good-looking man.
The purple room is painted with glow in the dark paint and simulates purple rain drops or sparkling stars. In the Purple Rain Room, one side contains mirrors in which Prince practiced his dance moves. Our guide told us that the motorcycle from the movie, Purple Rain, and costumes were added into the room as well as Prince’s Academy Award. The piano in this room has marks from Prince dancing on top of it! The movie screen rotates scenes from the movie. It’s an amazing experience being in Paisley Park!
This is where your purple flash drive will come into play. Dernise and I played a game of ping pong on the table in one of the studios while we waited to take our photos behind the purple piano. Our tour guide told us that Prince played the game between studio breaks. YouTube Jimmy Fallon as he describes being beat badly by Prince playing ping pong. Prince's handwriting is on the piano. This was one of the best parts of the tour!
We also visited the NPG Club in which Prince had impromptu concerts for friends and fans. If you received a text, you were one of the fortunate ones to see him perform live in Paisley Park. This was the only place in which we were allowed to sit on the furniture. The stage is very intimate with sofas on each side. It’s lit with candles and dim lamps.
After we left the NPG Club, it was the end of our tour. We exited into a big tent that contained souvenirs (t-shirts, posters, tambourines, key chains, bags, necklaces, etc.) for purchasing. Tables and chairs were set up for our convenience. We had also purchased tickets in advance for meals created by Prince’s personal chef, Ray Roberts, that featured his favorite dishes. It was a vegetarian dish but extremely good. I missed out on the chocolate cake because the kitchen ran out.
It was sad leaving the estate but it was a wonderful feeling being able to knock the visit off of our Bucket Lists. However, we quickly recovered because we drove around and found every mural related to Prince in the area. It was a great trip.
As we returned to the bus, I took one final photo of Paisley Park as we drove off. I felt grateful to be able to visit and regretful that Prince wasn't there. However, I felt he is in a peaceful place. I will return to Paisley Park when the round building on the side of the estate becomes a restaurant. I really hope the zoning issues are eradicated quickly to allow more fans to visit the museum. We met people from Australia, France, and other places that traveled to attend the concert and visit Paisley Park.
The finale for our Prince Road Trip was to hit thrift stores. I can’t go anywhere without going to one and I found great deals!
You should add Paisley Park to your planned vacations or Bucket List. You will not regret it!
Tell me your thoughts! Leave a comment.
UPDATE: Paisley Park is now officially a permanent museum! Tours start again!
Cuba! Ahhh! Before I tell you about my fantastic Bucket List - We Beat Mickey Dee's and Starbucks to Cuba trip, I’ll give you a few helpful hints. See below.
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Next Book - Little Pampu Goes to Rome
NEXT – Day 1 of the We Beat Mickey Dee's and Starbucks to Cuba Tour!
First, I must explain something. Lenny Kravitz is my fiancé. Yes. In my head, he is my fiancé, boyfriend, Love Snuggles, just as any fan imagines having a fantasy relationship with one of their favorite musicians. I have a running joke on social media about our relationship. We are getting married on my next birthday. If you know him, tell him to be ready. Now, that I have gotten that joke out of the way, I can proceed to the last portion of the Italy trip.
When we were planning the trip, I discovered that Mr. Kravitz was going to be in Italy at Rock in Roma performing. Renae and I decided that it would be an awesome sendoff for us on our last night in Italy to see Lenny. On the advice of the hotel clerk, we reserved a taxi. Our driver spoke little English but was very clever. He drove us right into the gates of the concert by telling the guards we were Lenny Kravitz’s sisters. Lenny is an only child! Ha!
We waited for the concert to start and before entering the concert area; we bought scarves with Lenny’s image on them from a street hustler and wrapped them around our heads. Lenny was kissing my head! We took a photo with the Pepsi ladies for their Instagram page. It was great fun!
Next, we got called up to a small stage to sing along one of Lenny’s songs for another promotion before the concert. The minute we opened our mouths, the guy knew we were American. His choice of songs for us was, you know already, American Woman. As much as I listen to Lenny Kravitz at work, you would think I would know the words without hesitation. I totally screwed them up but ad libbed by mentioning Little Pampu, my children’s book character. I wish I had film or a photo of our performance. Our energy was entertaining if our voices were not. I can sing a little but you would never know it based on our rendition.
I became thirsty and approached a booth selling beer and water. I asked clearly for, “Acqua,” the Italian word for water. First, the two idiots behind the booth pretended they did not hear me. Second, they pretended they didn’t understand me. Renae noticed and requested the water. One of them seemed perturbed, removed the cap and gave the water to Renae. I slid it over to my side and asked for the cap. The extremely rude woman, who previously pretended not to hear or understand me, spoke perfect English and told me I couldn’t have it. I asked her why and she told me that they remove all caps and they aren’t allowed in the concert area. I didn’t believe her but this wasn’t the first time I felt my skin color had something to do with the nastiness we encountered in Italy.
Renae and I were probably two of the ten dark-skinned people at the concert among the crowd. We stood out and that’s how I noticed the other possible eight. When we entered the crowded area, I noticed EVERYONE had the cap to their water bottles. Ridiculous! However, I wasn’t going to allow that observation to stop me from enjoying Lenny or the concert. I was going to see my man in concert for the first time and it happened to be in another country. Lenny and I were meant to be. Haaaa!
Lenny was the headliner but his opening act was a marvelous guitarist, Gary Clark, Jr. He was awesome! Gary Clark, Jr. has a sound similar to blues/rock. Loved it! Finally, my future husband was coming onto the stage. I’ve always remarked that I would love to get my fingers stuck in his afro. He is one gorgeous man. At one point, I know he looked right at me! Anyway, his backup singers are in fabulous shape. The men in the crowd kept yelling out “Bellisimo” when the ladies were focused on the big screen or Lenny introduced them. Lenny’s drummer, Cindy Blackman Santana, was FIERCE! That woman can play!
Renae and I truly enjoyed the show. It was a fantastic way to spend our last night in Rome.
Will I go back to Rome, Italy again? Nope! God would have to tell me in a dream to go before I take that trip again. I have faced enough racism in the U.S. that I do not need to pay and fly to it elsewhere. This was my experience. Your's may be different.
The next Little Pampu children’s book, Little Pampu Goes to Rome, features the Coliseum and Pantheon! Here's the link to the book. There are two versions. One for babies and younger readers and another for older readers!
NEXT – CUBA!! We Beat Mickey Dee's and Starbucks to Cuba Tour! Helpful Hints!
Shopping! Shopping! Italy!
During our trip to Italy, we were anxious to find shoes like the ones worn by the women of Rome. They were wearing gorgeous and comfortable heeled sandals. I don’t think I saw one woman wearing gym shoes. Renae and I were wearing flats for all of the walking we were doing. We both are shoe lovers, (What woman isn’t?) and wanted to pick up at least one pair of Italian shoes. We had previously found a mall in Rome to shop. It was not a total bust but it reminded me of the near-to-closing malls in the States. It wasn’t crowded and did not have too many stores worth visiting. We ran across a dog (one of those tiny rat-looking dogs) in pearls and dressed for shopping. I did manage to find a pair of shoes (I attempted to wear them once and they hurt my feet.) and two unique purses. Renae found a nice jacket. The sales were great! The highlight of the mall was KFC. We were so sick of eating pasta every day (I do love pasta!) that we gorged on the chicken. It was the best tasting chicken that I had ever eaten!
We decided to catch the train to Valmontone Fashion Outlet. It’s an outside mall like most outlet malls in the U.S. I was hoping that it would be worth the trip because the heat in Italy was on Las Vegas hot in August. While waiting around for our train, I took a trip to the bathroom. On my way out, I met an older gentleman, aka Papa Smurf, with a beard. He asked where I was going. I told him the outlet. Usually, I don’t EVER tell strangers about my plans. Papa Smurf told me the mall was closed. I looked him up and down and decided that he was joking because I had researched the mall. Papa Smurf said that the mall isn’t like American malls but is closed on weekends. Since my face is very expressive, I’m sure I looked at him as if he was insane (closer to BS). He was carrying a rolling suitcase and my imagination started to run wild. His next words were asking me to have a drink with him at the bar. That was not going to happen. I excused myself and walked quickly back to Renae. Papa Smurf sat on a stool watching us. Of course, I told her of our exchange. She didn’t believe him either.
While eating our lunch, a guy approached me. He started speaking in a foreign language that I was unfamiliar with. The confused look on my face and speaking in English caused him to begin conversing in English. He asked where I was from. I told him Chicago. He said, “No. Where are you originally from?” I said, “South Side of Chicago.” He asked my family’s origins. I told him Arkansas and Mississippi. He told me I looked Eritrean or Ethiopian. He thought I was from his country because of my skin tone, hair and eyes. We chatted for a few. I told him of the incidents of racism we had faced while in Rome. He wasn’t surprised and stated he also dealt with it. A few days before, a Cuban gentleman discussed it with us too. Anyway, he was a pleasant young man and I wished him peace.
We headed to our train and Papa Smurf followed. Shortly after seating, Renae noticed everyone running. We didn’t ask questions and started running too. Run first, ask questions later. After we got off the train, we were told the train was not leaving the station and we had to hurry and catch the train that was just about to leave. The idiot conductor made the announcement on only one train and everyone ran when they saw a crowd running. This is where we lost Papa Smurf.
We had to catch a taxi to the mall and luckily we shared a ride with a black Italian woman and her mother. The driver didn’t understand us and we didn’t understand him. She was the perfect translator because he had attempted to cheat all of us and was unaware that she spoke Italian. The outlet was decent but the heat was ridiculous. This time, the heat-o-meter was on HELL. I walked around with an umbrella to block the sun. Renae was totally comfortable in the heat. She found a few items. We headed back to Rome.
Since we were not very happy with our shopping excursions so far, because we both really wanted leather jackets and shoes, we decided to go to the San Lorenzo Market in Florence. It’s the renowned flea market in Italy. This trip is where we had the incident of meeting the crook. We were having a hard time figuring out where to purchase our train ticket at the station. The train attendant we approached did not speak English, impatient and rude. A woman walked up to us wearing what appeared to be an employee badge. Something was off but the badge seemed legit. She asked if she could help us. We were grateful she spoke English. She graciously instructed us on the correct ticket purchase and train location. We were relieved until her sneaky behind demanded money. The attitude we had! At first, we balked because of the deception but decided to give her something for helping us. Plus, we didn’t know if she had a crew to back her up.
All over Italy, we were warned about pickpockets. When I was researching for the trip, I read about pickpockets and scams (nothing mentioned the train scam). While on a bus, two women with a baby boarded with a stroller. Since I love babies, I watched them. I thought it was very odd that they took the baby out of the stroller, squeezed through the back of the bus carrying the infant, and then to the front. I tried to get Renae’s attention and tell her to watch her purse. However, the bus was too crowded. It was packed. They had to be up to no good and using the baby as a distraction. Most people would leave the baby in the stroller to keep it comfortable and out of the way of strangers. However, their actions were suspect. Sure enough, when we got off the bus, Renae realized that her purse had been tampered with. Luckily, nothing was taking.
We enjoyed the view on the speed train. The countryside looked beautiful! The trip was worth it! We found the softest leather that we had ever felt. Most stores had two shops, an inside store and stall outside. Most of the outside stalls carried the same items, belts, wallets, scarves, jackets, etc. as other stalls. I was able to pick up several souvenirs from the outside stalls. However, I found the best-looking deals inside the shops.
Many of the owners/sales people were pushy, too pushy! One ignorant fellow became upset because I didn’t purchase from him. I loved one of his jackets but it wasn’t my size. It was a little too tight. He tried his best to get me to buy it. He said that it was the Italian way to wear it tight. I told him that it wasn’t the American way. He continued to pull out jackets and insist that I try them on. I did not like them and finally headed out of his store. He said something that I could tell from his tone and mannerism was an insult. With that attitude, I left his store.
Renae and I both enjoyed our experience at the flea market. I was able to purchase two jackets and a purse to go with my other souvenirs. We were happy!
Next: Last Night - Lenny Kravitz Concert
After a well rested night, not really, because I spent a few hours downloading photos to social media. The internet was sketchy in our boutique hotel but it was free Wi-Fi. Giggle! Giggle! The next morning we waited for our tour guide to pick us up and take us to the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii. Another couple rode with us. Our driver, aka Dude, drove as if he was at the Indy 500. The narrow roads along the mountain created enough drama for me to pray silently and grip the dashboard while we sat in front of the vehicle.
The views were spectacular! Dude told us that Sophia Loren and Denzel Washington both had homes on the mountainside. I really don’t think he was telling the truth, though. He was a good guide and friendly. We saw plenty of lemon trees. I couldn’t get a clear shot with Dude driving like a maniac. We stopped quickly to take a few photos.
We finally arrived at the small town of Amalfi on the outskirts of the Tyrrhenian Sea. It’s absolutely beautiful. It reminds me of the tiny toy homes used for decorations around Christmas to create a small village. Your perception of the water’s color depends on your closeness to shore when you view it. In most of the photos I took from a distance, the water looked blue. However, the photos I took up close of a small private beach, the reefs or plants gave it a greenish glow. I love to look at water from a distance and find it very relaxing. The views were fantastic. We walked around a bit, picked up souvenirs and sat on the beach just “chillin.” After a while, our grumbling stomachs wanted food. We found a restaurant off the beach to eat. Although the seafood was extremely fresh, I don’t enjoy my food watching me. The heads were still attached to the seafood.
After our meal and additional free time to roam, it was time to head back to our driver. Dude dropped us off with a tour guide for Pompeii. Our second tour guide, aka Insanity, informed us that his father was a guide and he became a guide, following in his dad’s footsteps. He walked extremely fast as if he was trying to beat the heat. It was another over 100 ⁰F day. We were walking on cobblestone and Insanity could care less. He was on a mission to complete the tour without anyone falling out on his watch and if they did, they were the responsibility of whoever found them.
With Insanity leading the pack, we climbed the steep stairs into the frozen city of Pompeii with its ruins. The famous ash covered people, animals and pottery are behind a solid gate. We saw the forms of a man and dog. I watched a documentary before leaving the United States (I don’t recall the name.) that mentioned the bones and organs of the people and animals were not inside the ash shapes. Their remains disintegrated years ago. The ash solidified on their bodies after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. You better believe I was a little nervous about being so close to the volcano.
We walked along the streets and according to Insanity; the city was an exciting and lively place for many travelers and inhabitants before the volcanic eruption froze it in ashes and time. Insanity talked of politicians using bribery, throwing lavish parties and writing ads on buildings to get the votes. I do not think anything has changed. I started thinking of my hometown, Chicago.
Insanity showed us the water pipes along the sides of the roads that provided fresh water to the city. We walked as Insanity zoomed in and out of other tour groups. As we walked along the street, Insanity pointed out the male organ inlaid in the street that pointed in the direction of the brothel. I took a photo of it but won’t post on this blog. Insanity joked around a lot. So much so that a few men from another tour group didn’t understand he was joking around. Insanity teased that they were taking too long and stopping too much for their tour. Between the heat and him “running his mouth,” there may have been an international incident between tour guide and tourists.
We waited outside of the brothel and Insanity continued to crack jokes. We finally entered and Insanity described several murals on the walls. He stated that the paintings depicted “special” services available in the brothel. Clients pointed at the painting and that service was provided for a fee. It was a horrible living.
We walked around the city in and out of buildings. We saw bathhouses, middle class dwellings and the famous mosaic dog in front of an entranceway. However, besides the ash covered people and objects, my favorite was the mosaics of dark skinned people. I kept repeating, “I see black people.” Soon, the tour was over and it was a relief because it was hot and we were hungry. We met up with our driver, Dude, and headed back to Rome.
Next Florence, Valmontone Fashion Outlet and Lenny Kravitz concert!
Next on our itinerary was the Pantheon! I’m a big fan of ancient architecture. I like the enormity and solidness of the structures. They appear to be indestructible and considering that most have lasted through earthquakes, wars, etc., they are. We attempted to catch a bus to the Pantheon. I attempted to ask the female driver if her bus was the correct bus to catch as I was about to put my foot on the steps. Before I could get the question out of my mouth, she started yelling, “No! No! No! No! No!” and slammed the door in my face and pulled off. Did I mention the racism or colorism was alive and well in Rome? Anyway, we made our way to it. The Pantheon is also free to enter. Outside lingering around are men dressed as gladiators to take photos with the tourists.
The Fontana del Pantheon (Fountain of the Pantheon) sits imperialistically in front of the Pantheon. The sea gods and serpents are carved from marble. It’s pretty scary-looking up close. Several people left roses on the fountain. I saw a small child dip his hand in the water and put it on his face. Since it was 200⁰F (really a little over 100⁰F), I needed any excuse to cool off. I followed the kid’s lead without thinking. The water was cold and cooled my face immediately. I didn’t regret doing it until Nurse Renae (she really is a nurse) reminded me of the horrible microbes that could have been in the water from everyone dipping their hands in it. Actually, she took a lot of pleasure tormenting me about it. Ewwww!
I walked toward the huge columns of the Pantheon while Renae took photos and the crowd was in awe too. The massive doors were open and welcomed us. It was glorious inside. The dome opening allowed light to expose the grand religious paintings and statues adjacent to the walls. The altar is facing the door opening. Several people were listening to a lecture while seated near the altar as others prayed. Many were probably taking a break and enjoying the splendor of the place while escaping the hot sun.
I stood in the middle of the Pantheon and videotaped the inside while turning in a circle. I snapped photos of each painting and the Tomb of Victor Emanuel II (first king of Italy). Several tourists were taking turns standing under the dome’s opening with their arms stretched out. The sunbeams sprinkled light dust around them as it appeared as if they were worshipping the sun. It was a great photo opportunity.
After taking several photos, we watched a street vendor escape capture from a policeman. The tiny man wiggled free from the policeman’s grasp by shimmying between his legs and leaving his merchandise. I must apologize for laughing but the way the man calmly walked away caused me to giggle. I imagined him saying, “I might get in trouble with the boss for leaving that stuff, but I’m out!” The policeman thought the vendor was harassing tourists.
After taking more photos, we decided to leave. The unbearable heat made us hungry, feel dirty and tired. We headed back to the hotel. The next day was going to be our tour of the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii!
However, we got sidetracked. You guessed it – Thrift Stores! Ha! You should scroll right on past this section of the blog if you hate thrift stores. Don’t do it! You are missing a treat!
As you have seen in the other photos of thrift stores, most of them in Italy appear to have only 70’s clothing. Yet, there are many gems in the mix. Thrift store shopping is exactly like treasure hunting – you never know what you might find and how valuable it is. We did not purchase anything. We were saving our dough for serious shopping of leather goods. It’s no way you should go to Italy and not purchase leather – especially on your first trip!
Next up Amalfi Coast and Pompeii!
Why mourn a person that you haven’t seen for twenty-five years or spoken to in over five years? That’s what I’m going through right now. I found out recently that a once close friend died. No notice. No fanfare. No obituary. Nothing came my way; just a phone call from a friend regarding a post on Facebook. Before anyone starts the negative foolishness about posting such a sensitive matter on social media, it had to be done. His family is looking for his sister, Deborah, whom they lost touch with.
His name was Joseph Todd Pearson. We met in high school through mutual friends. We didn’t date until the end of our senior year and for several years off and on. When I hear women state that there aren’t any good men around, I can agree on a certain level. That’s based on the idiots that I have dated after Mr. Pearson. Don’t get me wrong. There were a few decent ones in the mix. However, no one compared to him. A few came close. Not only was he my first love, he taught me how a woman should be treated. No – that honor does not belong to my father. I love my father dearly but Joe taught me LOVE.
Joe really was my first love and you never forget your first love. The first man to buy me flowers. He was the first man to open a door for me, help me with my coat and defend my honor. Joe was the first man to buy me a gift just because. He was the first man to tell me he loved me. He was the first man (besides my father) that wasn’t afraid to tell me the truth. He was the first man to tell me I was beautiful and didn’t mean it in a sexual manner. Matter-of-fact, he told me after I had allowed someone to plaster makeup all over my face: foundation, blue eye shadow, eye liner, mascara, rouge, and lipstick.
It had been months since I saw him. I was away for training for the National Guard. Since he was picking me up from the airport, I wanted to look fabulous. I was still in my dress uniform when he picked me up. He smiled, laughed, hugged, kissed me, told me I looked and felt muscular. He teased me about my arms (which had bulked up from all of the pushups). He avoided commenting on the makeup. He had never seen me wear makeup and I thought it would be the first thing he noticed. I finally asked him if he liked it.
His response, “You look like a clown. You don’t need makeup. You are a natural beauty. Natural beauties don’t need makeup.”
Needless to say, I was ticked off and expressed it in a very un-ladylike manner via cursing! I didn’t expect him to be so blunt, although he always was, after not seeing me for months. He pulled the car over, grabbed my face and told me calmly while looking in my eyes, “You are too pretty for all of that. You don’t need it. You are beautiful.”
I was still upset but he always knew how to calm me down. At that moment, I knew I really was beautiful. It wasn’t because Joe said so. It was because I looked in the mirror and noticed that I really did look like a clown with the exaggerated makeup on. To this day, I rarely wear any makeup except brow filler, lipstick/gloss and maybe mascara. Joe’s words always come back to me. “You are a natural beauty.”
Am I having a shoulda coulda woulda moment? No, I am not. Joe and I had that conversation eons ago. I was the one that sabotaged our relationship. I was the one that played games. I was fighting my own battles and didn’t understand love. I never really appreciated what he tried to give/show me until Karma kicked me in the behind and those games were played on me. He was my template of what a good man should be in a relationship. To this day, I will not date a man that does not treat me like a lady or with respect. My father taught me that too but Joe was the one that made it REAL.
In the aftermath of our failed relationship, he got married and I had a child. The last time I saw him, my son was two and we were waiting at a bus stop to take my son to daycare. Joe spotted me and gave me a ride. We chatted and went on with our lives and wished the best for each other.
Throughout the years, I often thought about Joe. The thoughts weren’t based on the hope of a reconciliation of our love. No. We were long past those moments. I would have dreams about him. Whenever I had more than one within a week or month, I would try and locate him. I knew something wasn’t right and I felt the urge to check on him. I tracked him down. We promised to check in on each other from time to time. Of course, it didn’t happen. That’s my regret.
Today, I searched for a few of his letters that he wrote me while I was in the service and the photo of us at our high school graduation. I’m a packrat and keep almost everything that has ever meant anything to me. I read the letters again and stared at the photo. I didn’t cry. Not one drop of a tear.
I didn’t start crying until I started writing this “memorial” for him. I’m crying because I feel Joe deserved better than what he received from life. I’m crying because I wish I could have at least talked to him one more time. Yeah. Yeah. I know. We aren’t supposed to question or ask “Why?” However, my relationship with God is very open and direct. I may not get things my way but I get answers.
Every year on his birthday, I would post “Happy Birthday” on his wall/page on Facebook. I knew he wouldn’t respond because he seldom was on Facebook. However, I wanted to keep my word by checking on him, albeit, the lazy way. This year was different. When I wished him Happy Birthday, I added “peace” at the end without really thinking about it. I had remarked to a friend previously that I felt something wasn’t right and I had hoped that all was well with him. I had no way to contact him and pushed the ominous feeling to the side. I then received the phone call reporting his death. Sigh.
There were a few rough patches in Joe’s life but he never complained. He was a private man. When we were younger, I knew his secrets and his dreams. I can only hope that he truly is resting in peace. He was a magnificent and handsome man. Everyone should know that about Joe. Yes. It is possible to mourn someone you haven’t seen in twenty-five years or spoken to in over five years. I’m mourning the man that taught me so much right now.
Rest in Peace Joe – You made a difference in my life and others. Your mission was accomplished.
Next on our list was the Coliseum or the official name, Colosseum, the huge amphitheater in Rome! We found it easy enough by using public transportation. Matter of fact, it was easy compared to the other locations in Rome. Even the cab drivers were confused with GPS or were they taking advantage of tourists? The streets can start off with one name and end up being two other names before you get to your location. The numbers were not in any particular order. An address with 200 can end up being next to 35 and then 400. Trees “park” next to vehicles on the streets. I love it!
When I tell you the Colosseum is huge, it’s huge! You cannot miss it! We were smart (again) and purchased tickets online before leaving the US. We did not wait too long in line. Once inside, we climbed the same stairs that the ancient Romans climbed. On one level, we saw various statues and artwork. We exited into the walkways that led around the entire area of the Colosseum. It was crowded but due to the magnitude of the place, there was plenty of room to explore. I made sure I brought my handy red umbrella to shade me from the sun.
It was 100⁰ or more and the sun was out in full force! I was sweating before I stepped out of the shade of the entry way! Due to the Roman heat, there are several fountains in the Colosseum to fill your water jug or mug. I had my personal mug of my own design (Go to Products Page to purchase) and I filled it a few times. I also dabbed my towel to freshen up my face. I wish I had a small spray mist bottle for my face to help cool off! Renae and I took a selfie showing our excitement of being at one of the Seven Wonders of the World!
After a while, the heat will beat you down, if you are not use to it. We headed back to the lower entrance level to wait for our tour to begin. I highly advise purchasing tickets for the Colosseum Underground Tour. We had to wait a few months to purchase them separately. The tour started shortly and we headed through a gated, locked entrance and back upstairs. I felt sorry for an elderly woman that was part of our tour. She was a trooper though. She went everywhere we went. An elevator was available for the lower area but not all areas of the Colosseum. I peeked around a fenced off area and snapped a photo of pieces of the Colosseum possibly being repaired.
The lower level (underground) – is worth every bit of the ticket price! Our tour guide was a very knowledgeable young woman. She showed us the cramp living area where animals, prisoners and gladiators lived together. She stated that death was always around because of the unhealthy living conditions, stench and heat. There was a system for running water and latrines. However, it was not an exciting existence for anyone except the spectators sitting outside enjoying the show.
The guide explained the process in which the Colosseum was flooded to enable ships to battle to the amazement of the crowd. We looked out at the exit where Gladiators walked to perform in the Colosseum. It was amazing to see a reproduction of an elevator that was used to transport animals to the Colosseum arena. Many people were used to operate the elevator. The guide directed us to another set of stairs leading to another level. She told us each area was sectioned off by social standing. The second story we visited was for the middle class.
The magic of the Colosseum was further exposed when we saw the trap door that magically popped up animals, prisoners and gladiators to the main floor of the huge amphitheater. The tour took a depressing moment when we were showed the entrance that led to the morgue for fallen gladiators. As we walked around and listened to the guide, I hid away into a cubby hole to avoid the sun and cool off a little. After I was busted by Renae, I came out of the cubby hole and looked over an edge (slowly because I am afraid of heights) to see the entire inside of the Colosseum. Behind us was the view of Palatine Hill. This was our next stop. With our purchase of the Colosseum tickets, a visit of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill was included.
We left the Colosseum and got turned around and could not find our way to the shortcut for Palatine Hill and Forum. We found a dark-skinned young man and asked him directions. He pretended not to know and even made fun of us to his co-worker that was delivering items on a push cart. His actual words were, “It’s black Americans.” This disturbed me because not only was he darker than us but he considered himself better than us. Before I knew it, the South Side of Chicago came out and I told him he was rude and he understood.
We eventually found our way. Make sure you wear comfortable flat shoes. The cobblestone, which I nicknamed “Break Something,” is not the place to wear cute heels. The Roman Forum has the massive Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. The crumbling, massive monuments are beautiful if you love ancient architecture. This area is where Rome is said to have begun. Hunger, heat and exhaustion got the best of us. We dragged slowly through the area and headed back to the direction of our hotel for something to eat.
After eating, we found another thrift store. Come on! You knew it was going to happen. This was a smaller store and we did not purchase anything. It also contained a lot of 70s clothing. If I had room in my spare suitcase, I would have at least bought one of the men’s hats. I love the style of a man’s fedora! A pair of furry shoes also caught my eye. However, they looked like Bigfoot was missing something. They were hideous. Not my style but I am sure that someone loved them and they were extremely expensive looking.
NEXT: MORE ITALY, LENNY KRAVITZ AND THRIFT STORES!
It was just the two of us for this trip, Renae and I. The plane landed in Rome, Italy and we were greeted by the handsome Donavita, our chauffeur, with a Mercedes Benz as our taxi. We headed to our boutique hotel and checked in. The Hotel Farnese is beautifully decorated and has an elegant charm about it. Jet lag had not set in. We were ready to freshen up, hit the streets and explore!
Our first trek was to the Trevi Fountain. Unfortunately, it was closed for repairs. We continued walking. (Sidebar: You definitely need at least two pair of comfortable walking shoes and plenty of socks. Although the women wore heeled sandals, we looked like the typical tourists in our walking and gym shoes. We were still cute though!) We found the Fontana del Moro (Moor Fountain) in the Piazza Novano! It is a gorgeous fountain in the middle of a plaza. Yes! Photo shoot at the fountains!
By this time, we were hungry. We stopped off at a restaurant near the plaza. You guessed it! Pizza! It did not have a strong tomato base that we were familiar with like similar pizzas in the US. Goodness! It was freaking delicious!
We had to walk off the pizza and found the Quirinale Presidential Palace by mistake while heading back to our hotel. The heat was ruthless! It was so hot that I hid under a red umbrella for protection from the sun. More photos were snapped! From the distance, I spotted a presidential guard or policeman. He was a Roman Sean Connery. Gorgeous! You know we had to get a photo of him!
The next day, we went to the Vatican Museum. Huge! The lines were even longer! (Advice: Get tickets online ahead of time to avoid the lines. They were around the massive building!) The museum was crowded but we were able to navigate inside. The spiral stairs are a hazard if you are not careful. They are slightly flat but with wide steps. I almost tripped walking down them. The Braccio Nuova Gallery contains magnificent busts and statues of famous emperors, Romans, gods, etc. HOWEVER, it was extremely difficult trying to figure out which busts or statue belong to whom. Many of them are mislabeled or contain the same label.
The gardens are absolutely beautiful and perfectly manicured. Due to the long lines, we did not enter the Sistine Chapel or the Basilica of St. Peter. We took more photos outside in the courtyard. In another courtyard of the museum, we were enthralled by the Sfera con Sfera or “Sphere within a Sphere” created by Arnaldo Pomodoro. It is a beautiful bronze ball. We did not know it rotated until a tour guide turned it. It is a must see!
After we left the museum, we were on the search for thrift stores. Yes! We are true Thrifters! We will find a thrift store anywhere! We had mapped out stores that were near the places we were going to visit. The best find was Pifebo Vintage Shop. Unlike stores in the US which are larger, these stores were equivalent to large closets. Pifebo is known as a warehouse. It is a much bigger thrift store with several rooms. The discount bin contained slightly worn leather purses for 10 Euros each ($10.93 USD). Renae and I found several purses! We were in Thrift Store Glory! The owners were extremely friendly and we took a group photo. May as well make good use of my selfie stick! We were exhausted from our thrift shopping and caught a cab back to the hotel.
NEXT – Coliseum and other Adventures!
Paris Trip - The Itinerary!
After checking out the neighborhood the day before, the next day we went on the Black Paris Tour. If you don’t have anything nice to say . . . The highlight of the tour was visiting Little Africa. We had a wonderful meal of fish and side dishes in a small African café. The head of the fish was still attached. Eww! The eyes stared at me creating an unnatural attachment between us. I turned the eyes away from me and ate the bottom portion of the fish. Delicious!
In the evening, we traveled to the Eiffel Tower. It was magnificent! The golden yellow lights of the tower flickered like dancing stars! The lights illuminated the tower and could be seen throughout Paris. Stunning! We arrived too late to ride the elevator to the top of the tower. However, the beauty of standing underneath it was excitement enough.
The gigantic structure is one of the must-sees of Paris, France. If you are up to it, you can even purchase wine from the vendors making extra money at the tower. Who knew you could purchase souvenirs and wine at the tower? We also rode the carousel! Three grown women riding up and down on the colorful animals of the ride was a sight to see.
Our third day in Paris, we visited the Louvre Museum. Napoleon may have been short in stature but he was tall with extravagances! Among the items in the museum are his furniture, Marie Antoinette’s bedroom, and the famous painting of Mona Lisa. The magic lure of the Mona Lisa is larger than the painting itself. The frenzied crowd fought for space to video, photograph and be as close as possible to the great woman. It was thrilling!
The fourth day in Paris two of us joined a cooking class. The other woman went to the famous Champs-Elysees’ district for shopping. Our chef took us shopping at the street market to purchase fresh fish and vegetables to prepare our meal. We were taught how to filet (French) a fish and other lessons. It was the best cooking class that I ever had. Chef Eric was definitely not bad on the eyes!
On our return back to the apartment, we stopped off at the Pont des Arts’ bridge and purchased padlocks to place our own “Love Locks” on the bridge. Legend states that you write the name of your lover on the lock, attach the lock to the bridge, toss the key in the river, and you will be with your lover forever. Ha! Currently, the city of Paris has cut the locks off and has forbidden future locks attachments to avoid damage to the bridge. I also purchased a painting from a street vendor. I love it!
On the fifth day, we went to the castle at Versailles. The furnishings in the castle are grand! We visited Marie Antoinette's estate, Petit Trianon, a much smaller abode for the Queen. Later, we shopped! I found a gorgeous wool coat at a consignment/thrift store. I also found a fashionable white leather jacket. The other ladies purchased purses.
Did I mention that we caught public transportation everywhere? It was easy. The rail lines are color coded - just like in Chicago. Paris is Chicago's sister city! After much running around, we finally took a break. I sipped tea near the window of our apartment. I felt totally relaxed and peaceful. (To purchase the mug, click on the mug in photo below.)
The last day was the day of the Tour de France. However, we decided to avoid the crowds. We previously purchased cupcakes. We strolled to a fountain not far from our rental apartment. The three of us toasted one another with wine. What a wonderful way to celebrate our last day in Paris, France! See the video compilation below from Lo's home videos of the trip to Paris!
Check out the videos on Little Pampu’s YouTube Channel!
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NEXT: Lo's Italy Trip!
Paris Bucket List - Our First Day
We finally made it to Paris! We were in our rental apartment and jet lag had not hit us yet. We were too excited to be in Paris, France to worry about sleep or lack of! We had a full itinerary and we planned to do everything on it. We checked the apartment. It looked just like the photos that we reviewed beforehand. There were a few glitches like chipped paint and half a shower curtain. However, we were in Paris to enjoy ourselves. The apartment was good enough to shower, sleep and keep it moving!
First on the itinerary was to go to the grocery store. We had decided before leaving the US that we would cook a few meals to save money for shopping. We strolled to the nearest market. It was small and nothing like the huge supermarkets in the United States that contained many aisles. It was like a Ma and Pa corner store. I loved it! We decided on the items to purchase and split the cost. We had bought seasoning with us. Yeah. I know. Who does that? However, it was cheaper to do so. We purchased chicken, ham, eggs and a few other items. We each had a bag and we headed back to the apartment.
Along the way, we window shopped. One of the ladies saw a beautiful necklace that she wanted. There were purses, jackets, shoes, clothes and other items that we were interested in seeing again. We were staying in the 4th Arrondissement. It is a lively area with bars, restaurants and plenty of shops. We were loving every minute of it!
We dropped the food off at the apartment. We headed out again! It was my plan to learn French before arriving in Paris. Time and my own procrastination did not allow. However, the French were more than friendly. Many of them knew some English and I recalled all of the Do’s and Don’ts of the proper tourist’s behavior.
We walked in and out of stores in total delight! The bakery had the most delicious items. I knew that my sweet tooth would go into overdrive! The baked goods were the best that I had in a long time.
We found the Church of Saint Merri by accident. It was a small but gothic church, based on Europe’s description, with large statues. Inside, I sat down and sewed a piece of material to the community quilt. The giant quilt, after completion, was going to be sent to a church in Korea. The purpose of the church was to demonstrate community throughout the world. We were having a marvelous time!
Next: The days on our Itinerary!
Bucket List – Trip to Paris!
I have never been out of the country. The U.S. of A. is the country I am referring to. I have visited several places in the U.S., mostly the South where my parents were born. I have never ventured outside North America. Finally getting close to making a big milestone in my life, I decided it was time to travel out of the United States. Number One on my Bucket List is to visit Africa. I want to take my books, mascot and visit children in an orphanage. It has not panned out yet, but it will. It most definitely will!
Since my first name is French, I have always wanted to go to Paris. Wee! Wee! Paris! I began to save. I started taking my lunch to work. Therapy shopping was scaled back. I have always polished my nails myself with a special treat to the manicurist/pedicurist. Those rare visits for manicures and pedicures were even rarer. I wear my hair natural – translation – no relaxer; thus, eliminating the need for regular visits to a salon. I set up a separate savings account, started saving coins and deposited additional money every paycheck into it. It was doable. I was determined to go to Paris! A group of us decided to make the trip. The biggest expenses were the plane tickets.
My research regarding visiting Paris was mostly from Googling, reading articles from blogs and travel sites. I was concerned about the proper behavior for an American citizen visiting another country. It is their home. Wherever you go, you never want to upset the host! You never want to offend and unknowingly break a law! This woman wants to return home and visit again.
During my investigations, I discovered a few unique “etiquette rules.” Whether they were true or not, we would find out during our trip.
· Numero Uno: Avoid behaving the same way I would in America. For instance, when going into a shop, ask to handle the goods. Do not touch and grab items as if I was in a store in the U.S.
· Learn a few phrases in French.
· Avoid looking the men in the eyes or speaking to them or they would assume you are a streetwalker. I kid you not, I found this one during my Googling session.
· Always use salutations.
The day finally came when we were leaving the U.S. for Paris. We landed and I immediately felt different. There was nothing special about the air. It was the realization that one of my dreams was actually coming true! I was giddy! We all were! We were picked up by a pre-arranged driver, a very handsome young man. If I was a few years younger, he would be my future husband!
He dropped us off at a 17th century building converted into apartments. The large wooden door to the entrance of the building was painted royal blue. He helped us take our luggage up three flights of stairs to our rental apartment. No elevator! The climb up the stairs were the equivalence of four American flights. He received a hefty tip. It was going to be fabulous! We settled in and reviewed our itinerary.
We were in Paris! Wee! Wee!
NEXT: First Day in Paris!
During this magnificent voyage to create an iconic character, I have run into various challenges and successes. I have met many wonderful people that have been influential and encouraging. This journey has not been without many irritations and setbacks. Individuals that I have trusted have betrayed me. Childhood friends have tried to dissuade me from pursuing this course I am following. Some family members’ support has been non-existent. Due to their lack of confidence to pursue their interest or just plain “hate on me” (also the title of one of my favorite Jill Scott songs), I will not allow them to hinder me from my ambitions. With that notion, I am learning to appreciate patience and the ability to disengage from them and to “do me.”
Back to the positive! I have many people that believe in me and are very generous with their support, advice and endorsement of Little Pampu and the Chocolate Bunnies. One special individual has been in my inner circle from the very beginning. I call her my Success Sister. We have decided that we will support each other as we get closer to the success that is part of our destiny. Jealousy, spite or backstabbing is not something that we do. We get that from others. Our belief is that it is possible for people with the same goals to stand back to back and hold each other up.
With each disappointment comes an affirmation that we are on the right track. We reinforce our beliefs in one another. Sharing aggravations and triumphs, we campaign for each other. Sure, we have pity parties but one or the other always talks the other one through it. It is our decision to be each other's cheerleader and we have succeeded.
I have a tendency to over analyze. It is my nature to be well-organized and thus, I may fret the “small stuff.” It does not help that I have the attention span of a 10-year old child. However, my Success Sister, Eltrina Horton, always tells me the truth, reminds me that what is meant for me will happen and to refocus. We both have a “Plan A” and “Plan B” in motion. I remind her that her business venture, Horton Horizons Travel, will take us around the world. She reminds me that Little Pampu and CB, Inc. will be extremely successful. Jealousy or competition does not hinder us from being each other's advocates.
Whatever dream you choose to make happen, make sure you have a Success Sister, Success Brother or Success Buddy. The title does not matter. You will become a family of support. They should believe in what you are doing and help you in whichever way they are able to assist you. Choose them carefully. You want people in your support circle that bring positive energy to you and your goals. Keep in mind that you have to support them as well. Good luck with finding your Success Sister, Success Brother, Success Buddy and achieving your own aspirations!
Following a Dream!
As a little girl, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I often stated the following: artist or lawyer. Like most children, I wanted to do what I was good at or whom I admired. As a child, I was an excellent artist and enjoyed drawing everything. My artistic abilities are from my father. He often recreated the drawings from the art school listed in the back of books.
My ambition to become an attorney was based on my love of Perry Mason. I loved watching the reruns on television. I still do. Perry Mason never lost a case and was very eloquent in defending his clients. Due to various challenges, I was unable to become an attorney. However, I had the opportunity to work with attorneys and realized that I would not have enjoyed being an attorney - although I would have been an amazing one.
Throughout the years, I continued to draw but added two new passions: reading and writing. Reading massaged my brain and allowed me to explore and expand my imagination. The result of this passion increased my ability to be creative in my writing. I love the ability to rearrange words into an entertaining piece of writing. I soon added becoming a writer to one of my dreams to follow. My first piece of writing was a poem. I then began to write short stories. Eventually, my love of writing led me to self-publish a book of poems and short stories.
Now, I am writing adventures for children to read through the characters of Little Pampu and the Chocolate Bunnies. The little girl in me continues to dream. It is important that we give children the hope that whatever they choose to dream, that it is possible. As adults, we should always support them and allow them to dream. Life will teach them if they should pursue their dreams or abandon them. However, adults should attempt to encourage children to believe in themselves so that they may dream.
Lastly, I am following my dreams and hoping that you will follow yours as well. Give it a try! You will never know how successful you will be if you never try! Are you living your dreams? If so, what are they? If not, what is stopping you?
L. McGregor - President and Founder of Little Pampu and CB, Inc. Creator of Little Pampu and the Chocolate Bunnies.