Awesome # 176: Getting Lost in a Foreign City, Then Finding Your Way Again

At least once whenever I visit a new city, I like to put away my map and just wander. Depending on the city, I can wander for hours full of intrigue and discovery.

In Paris, after a trip up the Tour d’Eiffel and lunch near Champ du Mars with Mark (a North Carolinian whom I’d met in the line to get into the Tour d’Eiffel that morning), I wandered up to and along the Siene River, to the Palais du Luxembourg, around the Jardins du Luxembourg, through St-Germaine and back to Champ du Mars.

Several hours after Mark and I had parted ways at lunch, I found myself standing, once again, beneath the Tour d’Eiffel. I concluded my day in the Jardins du Trocadéro, where Mark and I had, as planned, reunited, with a well-deserved Nutella and banana crêpe in hand – just as the sun began to set.

My loop through several of Paris’ central arrondissements had taken several hours, as I lacked a map – I just found myself in these places because Paris was generally a pedestrian-friendly city. And usually, I can go wandering like this without issue. I tend to get a feel for the location of a city’s key landmarks quite quickly and, like in Paris, I can often find my way back without even needing to pull out my map again.

However, doing this in Italy proved to be much more of a challenge. In Venezia, this was mainly due to narrow, winding Venetian alleyways, the canals that seemed to outnumber the streets themselves, and the fact that the majority of Venezia’s more notorious landmarks were clustered in one spot on the Grand Canal in Piazza San Marco (leaving one with not much else with which to establish a feel for their relative location among things).

In the rest of Italy, this was mainly do to the countless number of piazzas scattered throughout the city and the not-so-obvious way in which streets are named. A piazza is a city square from which a number of streets branch that, time and time again as I wandered the streets of Firenze and Roma, threw a monkey wrench into my otherwise strong navigational abilities.

But, aside from the incessant Italian heat and teeming tourist crowds, finding my way around these obstacles and through these foreign cities was all part of the adventure. Not knowing where you are keeps you on your toes, and, in a strange kind of way, it’s invigorating and refreshing.

And what makes getting lost in a foreign city even more fun is when you can pull out your map again, figure out where you are and then try to navigate your way back. To succeed in doing comes with an amazing feeling of accomplishment.

View of Parisian streets from the Butte Montmartre

Canal in Venezia, Italia.

Random street in Firenze, Italia.

Piazza di San Pietro, Roma, Italia

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Awesome # 175: Proving Yourself Wrong

The Tour du Mont Blanc consists of a cumulative 10,000 metres of ascent and the same of descent, and approximately 45 hours and 130 kilometres of hiking along steep and, at points, quite difficult terrain.

After 2 days of independent hiking on the trails around the town of Chamonix, I moved from the Gîte Chamoniard-Volant (where I was staying on my own), to Hotel Le Chamonix (where I stayed as part of the G Adventures tour) to meet the group and guide with whom I’d be doing the Tour du Mont Blanc. In the common room of Hotel Le Chamonix, we introduced ourselves and then received a rundown of the several strenuous days that we had ahead of us.

I’m not going to lie, I was intimidated. Since booking a spot in the group more than 8 months ago, I’d understood the gist of what the hike would entail but, unaware of the specifics I, until then, felt very confident about my ability to complete it. However, sitting in a room surrounded by  at least 8 other people who had far more hiking experience than I, hearing the specifics of the hike that actually had, several days later, proven to be many times more difficult than the Inca Trail (the only hike I’d ever completed that’s even comparable in difficulty), I really questioned my ability to complete this one, and I wondered what I’d gotten myself into.

We began at the Bellevue look-off in the Chamonix Valley and followed the TMB trail up and down mountain peaks from France, to Italy, to Switzerland, then back to France. Carrying approximately 15 pounds of an assortment of essentials (clothing, first aid, snacks and water), we trekked together through the alps along the route on the map below. Several days later, we’d emerged from the TMB trail, about to close the massive loop we’d made from Chamonix to Chamonix around the Mont Blanc massif.

Though the trek wasn’t quite as challenging as I’d envisioned during our introductory meeting on the first night at Hotel Le Chamonix, it was, by far, the hardest physical challenge I’d ever accomplished and was, by no means easy. And considering the fact that I’d initially doubted my ability to complete it, I’d proven myself wrong.

Awesome # 174: Living the Dream

Wednesday afternoon, I boarded a plane in Rome headed for Montréal and thus ended a near-30 day adventure in Europe. I traveled from France, to Switzerland, to Italy, partly on my own and partly with a group on the Tour du Mont Blanc, on what proved to be a refresher course on how to live the dream.

For nearly 30 days, whether I stood atop famous Parisian landmarks, stood on the summit of a mountain overlooking the most breathtaking of landscapes I’d ever seen, picnicked beside a massive glacier, wandered lost along Venetian canals or in the midst of ancient Roman ruins, I was living the dream.

Me, living the dream while  overlooking the Italian Val Ferret on the Tour du Mont Blanc.