Posts Tagged With: Culture

Taiwan: An Island of Smiles

When I tell people I worked and traveled throughout Taiwan for a month, their first reaction is typically, “Why??”. The humble island full of sunshine and smiles is sadly underrated and overlooked by most foreigners. There is a benefit to their misfortune however. As a rare  foreigner in Taiwan, I was taken under the wings of locals and immersed into their culture 24/7.

Night Market Food Junkies

The Taiwanese are hands down the nicest and most generous people I’ve ever met. Everyone holds such a strong pride for their country and they are thrilled to show foreigners the beauty of it. They will be your city guide by day and your night market guide by night all the while sharing in a cultural exchange.

Night Market tours with Vivian and Tiger!

My favorite experience occurred in Yingge, Taiwan’s old pottery town. As I snapped away at artsy pottery shops, two Taiwanese men in their 40-50s stopped my friend and I and invited us into their shop for tea. (As we could not pronounce their Chinese names, for simplicity’s sake we named them Charlie and Johnny). Using handcrafted ceramic pots and cups from his shop, Charlie poured us freshly brewed tea. Johnny did not want the shaved ice and red bean dessert offered to him by Johnny, so he made us a bowl to go with our tea.

‘Charlie’ (left) and ‘Johnny’ (right) playing air ping pong with ‘Jonny’s’ handcrafted fans.

‘Charlie’ pouring a cup of tea into his handcrafted creation.

With the minimum English known by the men and the broken Chinese on our end, we had a 30 minute gesture-filled ChinGlish conversation about Charlie’s pottery shop and family life and Johnny’s handmade fan business. Johnny disappeared for a few minutes to his car and returned holding two of his creations which he then gave to us as a gift for having a friendly chat with them. After purchasing the subtly decorated pottery cup I enjoyed my tea from and taking many photos with our new friends, we thanked them for their generosity and continued on.

Tea time with ‘Johnny’ and ‘Charlie’.

Other friendly encounters and experiences include locals helping us tourists read a Chinese menu, a man ditching his chance to cross the busy street and taking 5 minutes out of his day to make sure I hopped on the right bus, and a lady literally stopping me in the street and shaking my hand for a good minute while continuously saying “Hi, Hello” with the biggest toothless grin.

A friendly Taiwanese lady helping us order from a Chinese menu.

With ancient temples flooding the upbeat cities, remarkable national parks, and mountains of nature lining the breathtaking seaside, Taiwan offers so much for any tourist. But even if it was a grungy country with nothing more than a few 7-11s, I’d still visit Taiwan just to be embraced by some of the loveliest people and the most welcoming culture I’ve ever encountered in my travels.

Friendly Taiwanese owners of a Chopstix stand.

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The Harrods and Eataly of Paris

Looking to splurge on top brands in both the fashion and food industry all at once? You’ll be in heaven at Le Bon Marché and La Grande Épicerie.

Le Bon Marché

Established in the 1800’s and constructed by Louis Charles Boileau and  Mr. Eiffel himself, Le Bon Marché serves as the oldest department store of Paris. Though not quite the enormity of Harrods, Le Bon Marché bears a close resemblance to one of the oldest (and most expensive) department stores in London. ‘The Good Market’ hosts floor after floor of high fashion names including Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo, and Marc Jacobs among other big name brands. Also on display are items from the Le Bon Marché brand, furniture, and pricy toys for the kiddies. Don’t forget your credit card!

View of Rue du Bac from the connecting bridge.

Connected by a bridge overlooking Rue du Bac in the 7th arrondisement, La Grande Épicerie remains the largest (and fanciest) grocery store in the city. La Grande Épicerie serves a similar purpose as New York City’s Eataly by creating an interaction between customers, their food, and those who make it.

La Grande Épicerie

Well-known and rare brands alike flood the shelves with bountiful selections of spices, ingredients, fruits, meats, and anything your heart desires. Looking for that jar of American peanut butter or marshmallow Fluff you’ve been craving in Europe? Or what about that special tomato sauce you can only find in Italy? Among imported goods, one can find fresh food from all cultures ready to eat or take home for some good cooking. And best of all, Saturday and Sunday are sample days! Goût (taste) fresh seafood, sweet pastries, wine and champagne, and fresh juice made before your eyes (with a €300 juicer).

Sample Time! Fresh Salmon!

Le Bon Marché and La Grande Épicerie are a must see in Paris on any day, but especially a rainy one (and chances are when you are visiting there will be at least one…so plan accordingly!)

Address:

Le Bon Marché

22 rue de Sèvres, 75007

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A Promenade to the Parisian Fountain of Sparkles

Just when I think Paris is done surprising me, another marvel is discovered! I thought a sparkling water fountain was something only dreamed about, but this dream is true! In September 2010, Paris installed its very own sparkling water fountain. This wooden hut found in Jardin de Reuilly offers both natural and bubbly water! The fountain is run by 6 taps, some mixed with carbon dioxide to provide the fizz. A local treasure not known too well of by locals themselves, many simply walk by the fountain never discovering the fantastic secret that flows within the pipes!

Cute Parisian man making his weekly visit to the Sparkling Water Fountain of Jardin de Reuilly.

During my visit to the fountain, a sweet Parisian man filled up his 10+ empty Pellegrino bottles (very suiting) one by one, a weekly chore of his since the fountain’s birth. He proudly stated that it was the one and only fountain of its kind in the city, a truly unique gem of Paris.

Paris does recycling right! Refilling empty sparkling water bottles with a fresh fizz in the Jardin de Reuilly.

After filling up my own 1.5 liter, friends and I contently walked along the Promenade Plantée hiccuping sparkles along the way. Promenade Plantée is an old railroad track that was renovated into a walkway filled with unique flowers, sculptures, sights, and parks along its path in the 1990s.

The start of Promenade Plantée near the Bastille.

Beginning at Bastille and ending at the Bois de Vincennes on the east side of Paris, Promenade Plantée is another rare gem that is often left undiscovered. Walking along the promenade, one is eye level with the 7-story architecture of Paris and can at any time look down at the rush of city life along the streets below.

A flawless blend of nature and city life along the Promenade Plantée.

Along with the sparkling fountain found in Jardin de Reuilly, the highlights of the promenade include the Viaduc des Arts, a copy of Michaelangelo’s ‘Dying Slaves’ statues located along the roof of the 12th arrondissement’s Police station, and train tunnels turned into decorated caves.

Michelangelo’s ‘Dying Slaves’ located at the top of the 12th Arrondissement’s Police Station.

The beauty of nature mixed in with architecture old and new along the Promenade Plantée is awe inspiring, and it is a sight that should not be overlooked. So during your stay in Paris, take a break from the busy tourist lifestyle and slow it down with a walk over the city and a fizzy water break in Jardin de Reuilly.

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One Year Later

Today marks one year since I have lived in America, driven a car, and seen my closest friends and family. But in this one year, I’ve experienced more than most do in a lifetime. I’ve opened my eyes, my ears, and my heart to the world and the colorful cultures, individuals, and opportunities it has to offer. While most friends pursued jobs in the so called “real world” after graduation, I lived in it. For the past year, I have lived by this quote:  

“Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it.”

Prior to gallivanting half way across the world, friends and family alike predicted my year abroad would consist of a delicious diet, European love, and too many adventures to count. Spoiled with homemade Italian pasta dishes, twice daily gelato, and all the fresh baguettes and pastries I desire, my stomach has found itself quite satisfied. And yes, I’m in LOVE! And with the most passionate lover in the world–Europe. I’ve opened my heart to its splendorous countries and they’ve given me nothing but love and new experiences in return. Everyday good, bad, exciting, or boring presents a new challenge and adventure that continues to bulk up my travel novel past its binding.

Looking back I think to myself, “Who was that crazy girl with a one-way ticket to Europe and no plan? And how did she end up back in Paris?” If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this year abroad, it’s that you can’t plan out life. You have to let life happen and figure it out along the way.

The best part about my international endeavors stems from the uniqueness of each experience in multiple countries. Rather than comfortably settle into one location with one job, one group of friends, and one cultural experience, I ventured for the less comfortable and at times challenging option to live in 3 different countries each with their own language, culture, and customs. I worked 3 vastly different jobs and though I started out alone, I quickly made new friends from every inch of the world and never knew where I’d end up on any given day. This exciting yet challenging route allowed me to call three international destinations home and it opened the door to surprising, unexpected, and awe inspiring opportunities.

The Modern Day Italian Goddess

In Italy, I not only gained an excess amount of kilos from the twice daily pasta dishes and Nutella breakfast sandwiches, but also an appreciation for the Italian culture that most miss while gondola-ing through Venice or posing with gladiators at the Coliseum.

Living with Italians from south, north, and central Italy, I experienced the passion and pride Italians possess for their culture. Standing at their doors with open arms and European kisses, I was welcomed into the family and treated as one of their own without hesitation. These families showed me the beauty of their country from their own eyes, and it was hard not to feel like an Italian goddess when walking down any street surrounded by ancient ruins and history.

Finally, though not much can be said for productivity in Italy, I benefited from the lack there of by slowing down my American busy body self to take a moment to stop and drink some wine and eat some cheese.

Love my incredible Italian host family, the Scarpellinis’.

The beginning of amazing memories– Florence, Italy

Single Girl in the City: London Town

After becoming incredibly too comfortable with the lax Italian lifestyle, I had to kick it u a notch to keep up with the busy city life of London. However,  I quickly came to realize that London was my happy medium. With a NYCesque nonstop atmosphere of activity mixed in with the EuroChill attitude, London became the city of my dreams. Spending my days in chic cafes or eclectic pubs with the girls, we enjoyed the unique English culture complimented by an international flare.

The diversity of London goes beyond its international inhabitants. Just 10 minutes walking distance to the next, each borough possesses its own culture, style, and attitude. From the posh areas of Hampstead to the eccentric and edgy Camden Town, or corporate Liverpool St. leading to the artsy confines of Spittalfields, the unique boroughs created a walkable time warp into different decades and atmospheres throughout the city.

Paris, London, and the World captured through my eyes

 

Kristin, Kristine, Christian, Chantal- Unidentified Parisian Life

To my American friends, I’m Kristin. To my French family and friends, I’m Kristine and apparently Christian when they try to Americanize their accent. So many a time I just go with my high school French class name and new alter ego, Chantal. Just like the name situation, Paris has proven to be a very ‘all over the place’ kind of experience that often results in confusion. This is primarily a result of the double life I lead– 23-year-old Kristin versus Au Pair Kristine.

The Au Pair life in the suburbs of Paris is a rather quiet one–when I’m not with the kiddies that is. Surrounded by French, French, and more French, I am fully immersed in the culture and language 24/7. This has definitely allowed me to understand the particular ways of the French and develop my language skills. That being said, I do know how to say more than ‘Bonjour’ and ‘Merci’ nowadays, but language barriers still present humorous scenarios at times.

Taking care of 2 (sometimes 3) kids under the age of 6 in the suburbs definitely creates a need for social interaction with people my age and a change of scenary. Every chance I get to escape into Paris makes me appreciate the city that much more despite its little quirks.

Most of my days spent in the city include wandering down unfamiliar and diagonal streets that almost always turn me in the opposite direction of my destination. Along the way, I always tend to find lovers and their baby in the making, meet an interesting crowd of Parisian dwellers eager to share their ‘talents’, ‘words of wisdom’, or ‘appreciation for my legs’, and creepers who so kindly invite me to ‘take a coffee with them’.  After giving them the Parisian ‘get away’ eyebrow lift, I mosey my way through the alleys leading to an array of interesting happenings such as Antiquites Brocantes (antique garage sales), bread festivals, wine tastings, and endless cultural events thorough out the city of lights. Paris is full of hidden treasures, and I made it my mission to discover every single one.

The travels aren’t over yet

With 24 days remaining in my Parisian experience, I’m enjoying the mystery and wonder of the lavish city while preparing for the next big thing. So what’s next?! One year ago, as I was hopping on the plane to fly to Europe, never did I think I’d be going to ASIA! But life is leading me to Taiwan and the Southeast for the culture shock of a lifetime. Asian food, a new culture and its customs to integrate into, constant confusion when trying to read anything– o it’s gonna be great! After Asia, it’s back to Italy for another go with ACLE followed by some travel through the European east side (can’t wait to feel rich in Europe!) and finally home sweet home…at least that’s the ‘idea’ for now 🙂

I could go on and on about the magnificent journey I’ve been on for the past year, but in the end it will forever be one that is indescribable. I cannot begin to express my gratitude for the experiences I’ve had and to those that have been a part of them. All I got to say is it’s been a heck of a ride!

So bottoms up, cin cin, cheers, santé, and hō ta lah to an  indescribable year of a lifetime and the continued good life ahead!

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Bread Festivals and A Night at the Museums

I now understand where the saying “April showers bring May flowers” comes from…Paris! Despite the flooded and lackluster April month, May has brought sunnier days and beaucoup festivities.

It’s no secret that Paris is full of sweet surprises. It’s also no secret that my stomach acts as my brain. So it’s safe to assume that most of my discoveries are made with the use of my super sensor. On this particular day, my nose led me to La Fête du Pain.

In celebration of Sainte-Honoré, the saint of bakers, 7-day Bread Festivals are held France-wide to honor the country’s staple food. This year, from May 14-20th, such a festival was held in front of the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris.

La Fête du Pain at the Notre Dame

With the crisp sent of fresh bread invading large white tents, baking professionals came out to show off their skills and share their delicious creations. On one side of the tent, cute French kiddies sported paper hats as they rolled out the dough for their own sweet treats. On the opposite end was a rose making station. Grab a dough circle, dab on some water, and start petaling away to create an enchanted dough rose. And in the center of all the action is where the art form could be seen rising to life in bread ovens.

French kiddies baking bread

Dough Roses

Baking professionals hard at work

Freshly baked bread from the oven

From inside the bread factory to the outside stalls selling the finished products, this festival was a party for the eyes, the nose, and the taste buds!

Up Next: Trade in bar hopping with a dose of museum hopping for one spectacular Night at the Museums — Paris edition…

Continuing the cultural celebrations around France and all of Europe was the 8th annual Nuit Européen des Musées. Hundreds of museums offered free entry and alluring events from dusk-1am on Saturday, May 19, 2012. And Paris did not disappoint with its night at some of the most prestigious museums known throughout the world.

Edgy art closet at 59 Rivoli

With over 200 choices and less than 7 hours to museum hop, pre-planning was essential. The options were endless with events that suited all interests! A treasure hunt through Musée des Arts et Métiers, glow paint and games at Musée National du Sport, an American folk music concert at Musée de la Musique, planetarium shows at Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie. There really was something for everyone. And free coffee tastings at Les Arts Décoratifs proved beneficial for sleepy museum hoppers with a busy night ahead!

Coffee break at Les Arts Décoratifs

These are two of the several events that happen only once a year. The beauty of living in Paris versus merely visiting are the rare opportunities to embrace local culture. The art of baking and exquisite masterpieces goes beyond what is seen in patisseries and the Louvre.

To see firsthand the work that goes into baking one fresh baguette from the early hours of the morning allows one to understand why it is said the only good bread is ‘Traditional French Bread’. To experience a night where museums come alive under the vibrant city of lights embellishes the ideals of Paris. Most importantly, such spectacles open the door to the dynamic world of French art and culture.

“I dream my painting, and I paint my dream”– Vincent van Gogh
For future travelers making a visit to Paris in the month of May, here are some helpful resources for these unique events:
Urban Pulse app– This app is  available for iPhone, iPad, and Android phones. It allows you to find events and deals all around Paris and other cities around the world. During Nuit des Européen Musées, this app allows you to find when and where all events are happening, the wait time for each, and more.
Categories: All Blog Postings, Free Things to Do Abroad, Paris | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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