Posts Tagged With: travel

Lonely London

I’ve recently had to redefine what it means to be on my own in this world, and in doing so decided to take the opportunity to redefine myself in the process. I thought to myself, if I was happy to travel around the world for two years on my own before, what’s to keep me from being happy living in and exploring London independently? I decided it was time to rediscover the true me who was happy to be anywhere in the world even if it was just me, myself, and I.  I realized that in order to be truly happy with myself, I needed to focus on things that were important to me and doing things that made me happy, even if it meant doing these things on my own. It is these reflections which led to my desire to rediscover London while rediscovering myself. 

So I did what I rarely ever do–I got lost in a book.

In a mad Amazon hunt to find the perfect book that would give me a stronger appreciation for the city I love most, I discovered “London’s Hidden Walks” by Stephen Millar. He now has three volumes and I decided go out of order and start with Volume 2 since reviews indicated that the 12 walks featured in this book were located in and around my London neighborhood, Clerkenwell.

I started out with walk #4: the Strand, Embankment and Fleet Street Walk. As this is a rather big time commitment, I decided to split the walks within this walk up and tackle one area at a time. I’ve just finished the walk from Fleet Street to St. Paul’s Cathedral and what most consider a bustling area for investment banking and law, I now appreciate as a history-heavy filled street which served as the hub for press and publishing in London from the 16th century.

I’m not going to take you through the whole walk, but here are some highlights:

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Standing in the middle of Fleet Street with the Royal Courts of Justice seen as the pointy white building to the back right and the dragon statue in the center marking the original sight of Temple Bar (see below for photo and info on this gate’s history) and start of Fleet Street.

Royal Courts of Justice: The Gothic-styled court building was opened in the late 19th century by Queen Victoria and continues to operate today housing both the Court of Appeal and the High Court. The building is open to the public at certain hours to explore the courts and corridors as well as a hallway lined with displays featuring the history of court attire on the second floor of the Main Hall. If you’re lucky, you may just have the chance to sneak your head into a court in session and see the lawyers dressed in the traditional garbs still worn today.

Dragon Statue and Temple Bar: 

The dragon statue stands at the original site of Temple Bar which served as a gate into the City of London. The gate was originally wooden but was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 then rebuilt as a stone gate by Sir Christopher Wren. Due to traffic congestion Temple Bar was taken down in 1878 and relocated to a wealthy man’s estate in Hertfordshire, but due to vandalism was once again taken down. In 2004, 125 years later, the gate returned to London and can now be found next to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

The dragon, which serves as the City of London’s Coat of Arms, marks the start of Fleet Street.

Gruesome Fact: The spikes atop of Temple Bar were originally used to to display the heads of executed prisoners. It was common for street vendors to sell viewing glasses for a penny to those who were looking from further away could get a better view.

Twinings Tea Shop: The first Twinings Tea Shop to open in 1706. The figures of Chinese tea merchants adorning the top of the tea shop are representative of China’s role as the main supplier of tea to England at that time.

twinings

St. Dunstan-in-the-West: This medeival church was saved from the Great Fire by the Dean and scholars of Westminster School using buckets of water. The church’s clock is the first to feature a minute-hand. The two figures above the clock, known as Gog and Magog, are traditionally known as the guardians of the city and would strike the bells every hour and quarter hour.

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The Red-Brick Building: The only traditional publisher left on Fleet Street.

Dundee courier building, the former Sweeney Todd's shop on 186 Fleet Street, London (UK)

Hen and Chicken Court: The creepy and narrow alleyway leading to the fictitious location of the barber shop belonging to the character, Sweeney Todd.

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Fleet River: Believe it or not, water used to flow through here. Imagine those two people who today cross the street having to cross over Fleet Bridge to reach the other side. What remains of Fleet River is now covered by New Bridge Street and Farringdon Street and the hidden river flows into the Thames just down the road below Blackfriars Bridge.

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Ye Olde Chesire Cheese: One of the most famous taverns in London dating back to the 17th century. The tavern was frequented by Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and US president Theodore Roosevelt among other intellectuals and writers.

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So there ya have it folks, my first of many lonely walks around London. This is not meant to be thought of as a depressing reality, but rather enlightening. I am OK with being alone. Because it is when I am alone that I get to feel a part of history that is so often left undiscovered. In that instance, I am surrounded by a reality unknown to others walking past me. And I am happy being with me in a world filled with endless possibilities. 

 

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Categories: All Blog Postings, Free Things to Do Abroad, London | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Culture of the Algarve

An urge to satisfy the travel cravings and a need for sunshine led Charlotte, my #1 travel bud, and me to spontaneously book a flight to the beaches of the Algarve region in Portugal despite our lack of knowledge on the destination. Our ignorance led us to believe that Faro, Portugal was a random Ryanair drop-off location, but with a few quick Google searches, the Algarve revealed itself to be one of the most overwhelmingly popular tourist destinations known to the EU.

There are two sides to the Algarve. To the right of Faro, one can find the tourist hotspots like Lagos and Albufeira where crystal clear water, sandy beaches, and natural caves are bustling with vacationers. To the left of Faro are the waters less traveled with beautiful beaches, nature reserves, authentic food, and most importantly–culture!

Our adventure began in Albufeira where a 5 pound shuttle conveniently took us direct from the airport to our hotel. We loved the blue view of the Atlantic from our 3-day tanning post on the sandy shores. However, we couldn’t help but feel like we were trapped inside a snow globe spotlighting a perfect holiday town sprinkling tourists from the sky.

It is when we traveled to Olhão, Portugal that the real adventure began and the beauty of the Algarve was discovered. An easy and cheap 40 minute train ride took us to the largest fisherman’s town of the Algarve– Olhão. Just our stay at Pension Bicuar Residential was enough to make everything about Olhão a home away from home. Owned and operated by a lovely Malaysian couple with an inspiring globetrotter couple from New Zealand temporarily working at the B&B for 3 months now, they made us feel very welcomed giving us a tour of the place and filling us in on the life of Olhão.

On the first night in Olhão, I awoke at the early hour of 4am unable to fall back to sleep. Not wanting to waste my time with tossing and turning in bed, I went up to the rooftop of the B&B to watch the sunrise over the Moorish-style homes in this coastal town. I wasn’t the only one awake though. Just a short walk from our B&B, fishermen were hard at work at the port bringing in their fresh catches of the early morning to fill an entire market featuring a variety of fish big and small.

As explained by the lovely New Zealand couple, you can’t go to the fish market with a list because what you see is what they caught that morning! They also explained that the bell heard at 10 am that same morning was to alert the town that a huge fish (like shark status) was caught! I didn’t find the big guy, but here are a few shots from the market…

After exploring the fresh fish and fruit markets, both of which close at 1pm, we hopped on a ferry to the local islands. With 3 islands to choose from–Ilha da Armona which is reachable by one ferry and Ilha da Cultara and Farol reachable by another and connected by their sandy beaches–we ventured to Ilha da Farol. The ferry took us along the Ria Formosa nature reserve to the island well-known for it’s operating lighthouse (aka farol in Portuguese) along the white sands and crystal clear waters. As we made our way from the ferry dock to the beach, we passed through the simple and well-decorated homes of the island taking in the lifestyle of the locals and imagining their day-to-day commute into the city of Olhão for work, shopping, and what not.

We enjoyed a lovely day on the beach tanning our paled UK bodies under the burning sun of Portugal. And best of all, we enjoyed being surrounded by locals and embracing the culture of the Algarve.

 

Our Portugal Trip in a nutshell:

Overall– An affordable trip with an average total of £300 spent for a 5 night stay.

Airfare– Approx. £110 with the budget airline, Ryanair

Accommodation–

  • Albufeira: Hotel da Galé– approx. £20/night for a standard room with two twins. Simple 2 star hotel, basic accommodation. Perks: Rooftop pool, sick view, close to beaches. Negatives: Friendly staff but not very helpful or informing, bathroom is not the cleanest, bar never opened, WiFi but in lobby only.
    • My rating: 2.5/5 stars
  • Olhão: Pension Bicuar– approx. £20/night for a standard room with two twins. Well-decorated and comfortable B&B. Perks: Rooftop tables and chairs with a great view of the town, next to the ferry and markets, amazingly friendly staff. Negatives: None! WiFi could have been better but who needs that anyways when on vacation!
    • My rating: 5/5 stars

Food–

  • Albufeira: Approx. 8-15 per meal. Drinks approx. 4 for beer, 12 for a jug of Sangria
    • Food was pretty touristy and not very authentic. Lots of fish and chips haha
  • Olhão: Appox. 4-12 per meal depending. Can get seafood for a very good price.
    • Amazing seafood everywhere!!! 8 seafood lunch buffets.
    • Best tapas place which is a must try and loved by locals–7 Imeio Wine Bar

Ferry from Olhão to the islands: Approx. 4 roundtrip!!

Shuttle to and from airport: 10 total

 

My biggest travel tip for you—Explore the waters and roads less traveled and stick to the left side of Faro, Portugal if you want to experience the true Algarve!

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Viva Colombia

My recent two-week trip to Colombia was more than just a vacation. It was a reunion with a best friend and a beautiful person who is an inspiration to everyone in her life. Samantha Merkle has dedicated the past 22 months to a cause greater than herself. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, she has positively impacted the under-served areas of Santa Marta, Colombia as an English Teacher Trainer to Colombian educators and as a mentor to young girls.

And her last 5 months of service will bring new exciting challenges. Now fluent in Spanish and dedicated to making a difference, she has just been awarded a grant from the US Agency for International Development (USAID)–a proposal which she was required to present to the organization in Spanish (impressive right!). She will begin to develop and implement a series of workshops focused on educating the importance of healthy relationships, sex education, AIDS/HIV prevention and so much more! Additionally, she will improve community service programs and organize visits to universities and technical schools to promote further education. By creating so many opportunities, this grant will benefit her precious group of Samigas, a girls leadership and empowerment group Sammy started at the beginning of her service.

But prior to taking on this noble endeavor, she took a little vacay with me! Though two weeks was certainly not enough time to see all of the beauty and culture that Colombia has to offer, we certainly experienced the different lifestyles of Colombians.

First stop–Bogota! So we didn’t actually get to explore Bogota due to time restraints, but we did enjoy the luxury of the Marriott (thanks Sammy’s dad for the points!) and Sammy was finally reunited with her long lost love, sushi!

From Bogota, we took a bumpy bus ride through the mountains to the tiny pueblo, Villa de Leyva. This small colonial town features white buildings with dark green trim and cobblestoned roads that lead to the largest main plaza in Colombia, Plaza Mayor. The town is surrounded by a wealth of interesting history which we explored by bike.

Next on our travelventures– Spicy Cali. Known for their salsa nightlife, we didn’t sleep much trying to keep up with their quick feet. Whereas Cuban salsa focuses more on turns and style, Cali’s salsa is all about the footwork. Luckily, the newly opened hostel we stayed at, El Viajero, offered free salsa classes to get us prepped and ready for the endless nights of salsa.

Since Cali is such a nocturnal city, we spent most of the day resting to revamp for the night ahead, but we managed to squeeze in some sightseeing.

Last stop on our travelventures, Sammy’s home–Santa Marta, also known as the heat wave of Colombia. You would never guess it was winter time in Colombia with the excessive calor (heat) of the blistering city. Whereas Bogota and Cali offer cooler temperatures during the winter months, even Santa Marta’s breeze can cause a heat stroke. Fortunately, there are many ways to cool down.

The beautiful thing about Santa Marta is the well-rounded image it gives of Colombia overall. From the bustling streets of chaos and blaring music that goes all night long, to the tranquility offered high in the mountains. The poverty and hardship of everyday life that becomes increasingly evident in the outlying hills, to the splendor and beauty of the Caribbean sea. Santa Marta is a beautiful city that shows every color of Colombia. And I have Sammy Merkle to thank for exposing me to such a magnificent and underrated country.

Prior to this trip, many thought I was crazy for traveling to Colombia. Everyone expressed their concerns regarding the ‘dangers’ of Colombia. Yes, there are many issues currently hurting Colombia, but what is not realized is that this is only in certain areas. In actuality, Colombia is a multifaceted country full of culture and the warmest people. Colombians take the time to get to know you regardless of your Spanish level. They let you take your time sampling ice cream flavors or inquiring about the menu for 30 minutes. They go out of their way to help you no matter what the circumstance. And best of all, they take great pride in their country and they make a great effort to give you the best taste of their culture.

Samantha Merkle, you Latino at heart you, thank you for being such a brave, powerful, and inspirational woman! I commend you for living in uncomfortable conditions, working through hard times and cultural extremes, and most of all being so true to yourself and serving as a role model to the world! Your good work and spirit go beyond the borders of Colombia. You are truly one-of-a-kind and I am so blessed to have you in my life! What a wonderful experience to share with you mi amor!

sammy

Want to go to Colombia?! Here are some helpful links to get your planning started! Of course, you can always write to me too!

Travel Tips-

Lonely Planet-Colombia

Accomodation-

Cali- El Viajero

Minca- Casa Loma

Low-Cost Airlines

Avianca (Preferred choice-more legroom and more comfortable travel)

Viva Colombia

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Trekking Through Chiang Mai, Thailand

Bartering on Khoasan Road in Bangkok; hopping one Thai island to the next; trekking through the jungle on the back of an elephant–There is so much to see and do in Thailand from the north all the way to the south, but my top recommendation for things to do in Thailand is a trip to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand and a 2 or 3 day trek through the surrounding mountains.

Friends and I opted for the 3 day experience. For only 1300 baht ($42), we had our accommodation, meals, and entertainment covered for the next 3 days. The excursion included a guided hike through the mountains, a swim or two in the waterfalls, a 15 minute elephant ride (believe me, 15 minutes was plenty), bamboo and river rating, and an overnight stay in a tribal village one night and the jungle the next.

We started off our 3 day Chiang Mai jungle adventures with an elephant trek through the surrounding mountains 3 hours from the city.

Snack time for the elephants before the trek through the jungles of Chiang Mai.

The elephants trekked through mud and up and down narrow mountain paths like it was nothing.

The universal scratching rock used by all elephants on this trek. My advice–don’t sit on the rocks.

We hiked for miles– The fist day from elephant camp to a waterfall and ended our hike at the local village tribe where we camped out for the night. The second day from the tribe to another gorgeous waterfall to the jungle huts where we spent our second night. The third (and final) day from our hut to the river and bamboo rafting adventure and back to the base.

The local village tribe where we spent night one of our three day trek. We lived liked the locals with no electricity or communication with the outside world.

This Thai man took good care of us preparing for nighttime and bringing some light into our dark hut.

We shared this bathroom with the local occupants—SPIDERS!

For sleeping on the floor, our beds were quite comfy and rather stylish with the colorful mosquito nets protecting us from unwanted bites!

Homemade Thai food for the candlelight dinner with our group!

Live entertainment provided by the locals in English and Thai! This talented musician moved to the village tribe after marrying his wife 10 years ago and now lives a happy and simple life in the mountains outside of Chiang Mai.

The musician also taught us how the Thai get married—Guess I got married in Thailand…

Our guides taught us the fascinating secrets of nature. For example, when opened correctly, this plant can be used to blow bubbles! I like to call it the Bubble Plant!

Gorgeous waterfalls lay in the depths of the jungle. The cool waters made for refreshing pitstop during our long and sweaty hikes!

We really enjoyed our unique experience in Chiang Mai, Thailand with a very diverse and one-of-a-kind group.

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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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Taipei By Night

From intricately decorated temples to gorgeous seaside sunsets, Taipei, Taiwan offers a plethora of tourist attractions. But it’s when the sun goes down that Taipei comes to life. With the blazing hot and humid climate, the 7pm sunset makes the heat a bit more bearable thus creating the perfect environment for Night Markets found all over the city.

Trying Stinky Tofu at the Taoyuan Night Market

A happy oyster omelette from Taoyuan Night Market

Traditional Taiwanese foods such as steamed buns, shaved ice with fruits, and the infamous pig’s blood cake and stinky tofu (yes, it’s as smelly as it sounds) are sold from stall carts lining the streets of the market along with clothing items, jewelry, and colorful knick knacks. (Note**– Those wishing to buy clothing from the night markets are required to be hipless and bootyless).

Our fabulous tour guides and friends showing us around the Taoyuan Night Market

If you have the opportunity to go with locals, do it! They will show you the Night Market experience done right! Around every corner, a new mysterious food was purchased and placed into our hands. We tried foods such as an oyster omelette, soup dumplings, and of course the stinky tofu. We never would have thought to purchase these fine delicacies on our own and we are more cultured because of it! The Taiwanese love to meet and entertain foreigners in their city and show them the true Taiwan so don’t hesitate to make friends. They will love you!

New friends Tiger and Vivian showing us around the Tong Hua Street Night Market

The most popular yet overly crowded night market is the Shilin Night Market. Though it is a must visit for all tourists, test out others on different nights for a more local and relaxed experience. Great locations include Tong Hua Street and the Shida Night Market. The Danshui Night Market in New Taipei City and the Taoyuan Night Market located just outside Taipei are great local spots as well.

Daringly trying Pig’s Blood Cake (just a bite) at the Shilin Night Market.

Sunset along the coast of the Danshui Night Market– New Taipei City

Categories: All Blog Postings, Asia, Free Things to Do Abroad, Taiwan, Travel Babble | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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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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

A Wine Tasting How To

Wine–An attractive reason to venture to Paris. In my quest to spend as little as possible while in the expensive city but still enjoy the finer things in life, I discovered Caves Augé. An independent wine store in Paris since 1850, Caves Augé offers FREE wine tastings once a month throughout the spring and summer seasons.

Inside, the walls of the quaint shop are covered top to bottom with a selection of French wines. The overstocked shelves in the center of the store make it possible for only one person at a time to shimmy his or her way through the aisles of the authentic establishment.

Outside, tourist and French wine connoisseurs alike enjoy an afternoon of tasting and socializing along the sidewalk of the independent wine shop. Today, winemakers from Rhone Valley share their creations at the dégustation de vin.

The overall atmosphere is relaxed and cultured.

Locals and tourists enjoy a free wine tasting at Caves Augé.

Wine selections rest atop an aged barrel for the aesthetic appeal.

Through observation, it is clear there is a very specific approach to tasting the wine.

Option 1:

  • With a paper listing the 20+ different wines and a glass in hand, first approach a winemaker serving the featured wines resting atop an old fashioned barrel.
  • After listening to (or pretending to understand) the description of the wine in French, swirl the ounce of wine, elegantly sniff, and proceed to sip…But DO NOT swallow.
  • Give your taste buds a workout and swish the wine around in your mouth for a few seconds to savor the fine and delicate tastes it has to offer.
  •  Once you have done so, find a wooden bucket adjacent to the barrels and spit. I know what you’re thinking..how attractive. But this is the classy way of doing things.
  • Once done with your tasting, find the select wine on your paper and jot down a few comments about your experience. Example thoughts are as follows:

Attempting to sound fancy: ‘Yes, the Saint Joseph Blanc 2010 was divine, but I much prefer the Rouge. It’s much more vivid and perfectly off-dry.’

Keeping it simple: ‘This is a fine dining kind of wine; this is a romantic drink by the fireplace kind of wine; this is a good time kind of wine. ‘

Just going with it: ‘This is my 10th tasting, I can’t tell the difference anymore.’

  • After this last step, repeat the process all over again. Return to the previous barrel, ask for the second wine, and so on. Once done with the first barrel, move on to the next, mingle with the winemaker, and compare the new and undiscovered tastes.

Option 2:

This is one approach to wine tasting. The other is not quite as involved. Simply grab a glass, choose a wine, chin chin, drink drink, and voila. 1 ounce per tasting, 5-6 ounces in a normal glass of wine, 20+ options to choose from. You do the math.

“Fine Wine and Good Times”

Whichever way you choose to experience the dégustation, just have a good time. Free wine tasting, good company, Paris…doesn’t get much better than that.

“Fine Wine and Good Times”

Categories: All Blog Postings, Free Things to Do Abroad, Paris | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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