The exterior of the Chateau de la Solitude.
I spent Sunday afternoon slinking through the ruins of an abandoned Neo-Gothic chateau on the outskirts of Paris. The Chateau de la Solitude was the former home of the head of a chocolate dynasty, and was briefly a convent and a women’s college before falling to ruin.
Today only a shell remains of the once stately property, but the crumbling interior and the quiet woods that surround it have resulted in a haunting beauty that draws urban explorers, photographers, and the curious.
The following story originally appeared on Link TV’s Global Post Blog in 2009 during my stint as the station’s series blogger.
I am remembering a talk I had with Danuta Pawlowska, the Polish grandmother of a good friend of mine, in her Warsaw apartment several years ago. A member of the Warsaw resistance during the Nazi occupation, Danuta was closely monitored after the communists took over in the mid-1940s.
She recalled a long gossip-filled phone conversation with a close friend. Two hours into the conversation, a booming male voice suddenly burst through the receiver. “Would you just shut up already?” the man groaned. “How much more of this must I listen to?!”
I had laughed at the time. For a young American with roots in Warsaw, the idea of a government agent listening to a banal chat with a friend was amusing – something fit for a dime store spy thriller.
This disconnect is also apparent in present-day Warsaw. In the city’s meticulously reconstructed Old Town, foreign tourists swarm on souvenir shops to purchase T-shirts and shot glasses, and bursts of bad American pop music filter out of the same fashion chain stores that line Paris’ Rue de Rennes or Copenhagen’s Strøget. The stylish, boisterous students crowding the bars and cafes have no memory of life in pre-1989 Warsaw.
Yet, if you venture outside of the city center, the medieval architecture gives way to monotonous tenements the color of diesel exhaust. Passing by some of these buildings at dusk is an unnerving, somewhat melancholy experience, and I’ll admit that I glanced over my shoulder more than once. For Danuta and millions of others, that reality was life.
The Pantheon on a late-winter evening. © Erin Zaleski 2013
Once again, I’m here in a Paris beset with mood swings as the city transitions from one season to another. The days are getting longer though, and a few evenings ago the sky had a striking, Maxfield Parish-ness to it as the last of the light faded away.
Balloon over the Stockholm waterfront © Erin Zaleski 2012
Nelson, British Columbia
San Francisco, CA
Södra Sandby, Sweden
Tahoe City, CA
May 2013 bring more adventures to the wanderlusty! Happy New Year, everyone!
Autumn light in the Luxembourg Gardens on an October evening. © Erin Zaleski 2012
I finally made it back to Paris after nearly four years of being away.
If I had forgotten how bleak October in Paris can be, the past two weeks have reminded me.
The morning sky is dark until 8 am and a thick canopy of clouds can linger for days, obscuring the sun and imparting a romantic, melancholy quality to the city the gradually becomes less romantic and more melancholy with each successive gray day. Fortunately, I was so caught up in the intensity of re-immersing myself in the city and reconnecting with old friends that the gloom became an afterthought.
On my last evening, still tipsy from a long, wine-soaked lunch, I stumbled (quite literally) into the Luxembourg Gardens, where the last moments of the day had given way to a blaze of light that was almost jarring.
It was a fitting conclusion to a trip during which dreary moments mingled side by side with florid, intense ones. It was also a reminder that more than two decades since my first trip and after nearly four years away, the city still has the ability to tantalize, seduce and surprise me.
I’ve booked a return trip for the spring. See you there?
The hillside village of Gavorrano in the afternoon. © Erin Zaleski 2012
Sweden is in the grip of its chilliest, rainiest summer in centuries, and shortly after my arrival in late-May I began pining for Mediterranean heat, sun-baked terraces, and humid evenings laced with ice cream and strapless dresses.
So in July I fled south to Gavorrano, Italy.
Never heard of it, have you?
Neither had I, which I immediately took as a good sign.
Straddling a steep hillside in southern Tuscany’s Maremma about 25 miles northwest of Grosseto, the medieval mining village is free of grand hotels, “menus turisticos,” chain stores, and gourmet gelaterias (basic, perfectly tasty gelato is available at the local bar). When the midday sun is at its hottest the main square and nearby roads empty out; the sounds of voices and footsteps replaced with the buzz of cicadas and the mistral wind barreling over the hills.
It was as middle of nowhere as you could get for Tuscany in July, thrillingly devoid of the summer tourist crush, and with the bonus of the exciting (and alarming) possibility of running into a pack of wild boar after dusk.
Abandoned cabin in winter, Lake Tahoe. © Erin Zaleski 2012
Lake Tahoe has been struggling through one of its driest winters in history, so when the forecast predicted snow on Tuesday, I dashed up to the ski house late Monday night.
On Tuesday I awoke to the winter wonderland I have been craving since December, and by Wednesday I was hitting the slopes at Northstar. Alas, the winter interlude was fleeting. By the end of the week the temperature had increased to a balmy 60f, the snow was melting fast, and hungry bears were roaming the region in search of food.
I snapped this photo off Highway 267 on the way to the Northstar resort. The lonely cabin appears as fragile as this season’s winter.
Beryl Markham deplaning in Kenya.
Is an interesting, itinerant life incompatible with domesticity?
A year ago I would have said yes without thinking twice about it. And I needed only look to the trailblazers of yore to reinforce my point. Foreign correspondent (and one-time Mrs. Hemingway) Martha Gellhorn died alone and childless. British adventurer Freya Stark never married. Pioneering pilot Beryl Markham divorced three times. Hardly paragons of domesticity, and I can’t blame them. Their lives were too dynamic, their spirits too free to be confined by the rhythm and routine that accompany long-term relationships or child rearing.
While I am not in the same league as these ladies (who also came of age in a vastly different time) my own views on wanderlust versus settling down boiled down to two choices: Either a stale, stable suburban existence complete with marriage, babies and annual family vacations, or a life untethered. Considering that the idea of a life comprising diapers, station wagons and PTA meetings is about as appealing as eating an entire plate of cilantro and then gauging my eye out with a fork, the choice was an obvious one.
Sunrise over Rome from the window of my hotel. © 2011 Erin Zaleski
Incline Village, NV
Lake Tahoe, CA
NYC, New York
San Francisco, CA
Santa Barbara, CA
Västervik , Sweden
Looking forward to even more adventures in 2012 and wishing my fellow peripatetic/wanderlusty/kindred souls the same.
Sunset in the afternoon. © 2011 Erin Zaleski
First impressions of a late-November in Stockholm in 100 words:
Awaking in darkness. Large black birds with white wing tips dart from tree to tree just beyond the terrace, and by 3:00 daylight is already draining from the sky again. Stockholmers are beautiful—the women are slender with maliciously poreless skin and uptilted fairy-eyes. They flounce down the streets in tight jeans and tall boots and shiny jackets like haughty dolls. Lanterns flicker outside the entrances of shops and restaurants in the afternoon, and cheesy, American holiday music filters out of taxis past midnight. A French grocer in Vasastan. Muesli with filmjölk in the morning, and procecco with jazz after dark.