Tag Archives: 2017

Paris, France

I’ve been a little unmotivated and down lately, mostly on account of my iPhone and Mac crashing in the same week. Yup. And even after I recovered both devices, I still wasn’t entirely motivated. Maybe it’s writers block or the sad reality that I don’t know how to be fully creative without the assistance of technology. But I read a quote this morning that said, “Ask yourself if what you’re doing today is getting you closer to where you want to be tomorrow.” Sometimes all you need is a little push or reminder or piece of encouragement. No more excuses. Which also means I’ll be flooding my blog with some overdue posts, including this one. My favorite place in the world. The place that makes me cry when I have to leave. PARIS!

This particular trip was my second time visiting Paris, this time with my fiancé. We were in the most romantic city in the world and I got to fall in love with him and Paris all over again. And every day was spent in the traditional Parisian way; sleeping in every morning, riding bikes along the River Seine, dining in a neighborhood bistro late at night, eating too much bread, nibbling on crepes underneath the Eiffel Tower, sipping Champagne, and endless strolls around the city. We couldn’t get enough of Paris’ timeless familiarity, effortless beauty, and iconic landmarks. But personally, I most enjoyed overindulging in what Paris is best known for: fashion and food. Parisians are synonomous with style, and Paris’ dining is iconic. I truly think I belong in Paris and may have been Parisian in my past life. I discovered some new gems on this trip that are now plenty of reasons to go back.  Here are my personal recommendations and highlights of Paris!

Astier
We dined at this cozy French bistro on our first night in Paris and made a double-date night out with our friends who were also visiting. They left it to me to pick the restaurant and I had remembered reading about Astier in a food blog. Astier is tucked away in the 11th district and approx. 30-40 minutes outside of central Paris by Metro (subway). When we walked up to the restaurant we discovered that they are also Michelin-rated! Talk about a happy accident. The interior is everything that you would expect and hope for in a French bistro; intimate, cozy, authentic, simple perfection, and the smell of butter, herbs, and meat wafting out of the kitchen. We took our sweet time enjoying delicate cocktails, fresh-made bread, intricate appetizers, and probably the best rib steak I have ever had in my life. Every bite was perfection.
L’As du Fallafel
Hidden in the “Pletzl” Jewish quarter of the Le Marais neighborhood is L’As du Fallafel – the best Mediterranean food I have ever had. My sister told me about L’As du Fallafel during her last trip to Paris, and she is my designated foodie guru. It is a tourist trap, but totally worth the wait if you need a break from French cuisine. The food is plentiful and perfectly affordable, with a great menu and incredibly friendly staff. I almost always finish a meal in one sitting, but their falafel sandwich is like a food challenge! There are two lines – one for to-go, and one to dine-in. The line may look overwhelming, but the staff is good at rotating each line in a timely manner. Trust me, it’s worth the wait!
Champs-Elysees
The Avenue des Champs-Elysees is the most famous avenue in the world for promenading in Paris. A stroll down Europe’s grandest boulevard will give you Paris at its most Parisian; intimate cafe’s for coffee sipping, colorful macarons in beautiful bakeries, wide sidewalks made for window shopping, luxury flagship stores, and instantly recognizable architectural icons. Built in the 17th Century but still holding its original chic and allure. A must-see when visiting Paris!
Le Grand Colbert 
On our last night in Paris, I wanted to indulge in one more night of classic French cuisine. My fiancé told me to find a restaurant, and I randomly thought of Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give, one of my favorite movies. She told Jack Nicholson of her favorite bistro in Paris with “the best roast chicken in the universe”. I Googled the restaurant which was conveniently 10 minutes away from our Airbnb, and an hour later, we were sitting in the stunning dining room that was known for hosting the lovely Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson, and Keanu Reaves. And it was everything I had hoped for! We stuffed ourselves with wine, bread, escargot, steak & frites, and the infamous roast chicken. It was truly magical and the perfect way to end our trip in Paris. Classic French cuisine at it’s finest.
Latin Quarter
After dining at Astier on our first night, our friends introduced us to the Latin Quarter and its special Bohemian charm for some late night drinks. This vibrant, artsy and eclectic quarter is one of the oldest areas of Paris. During the middle ages, the Sorbonne University attracted scholars from all over Europe who learned and spoke Latin, which gave the quarter its name. This historic and academic quarter is a medieval maze of narrow streets, stone-paved alleyways, with a few quiet, hidden squares. We spent the night bar-hopping and exploring the enchanting quarter. Easily one of the liveliest nights I’ve had in Paris!

                                                     “Paris is always a good idea.” – Audrey Hepburn

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Venice, Italy

“My love of Venice begins with the lagoon in which it stands. Although often overlooked, this 550-sq-km shallow bowl is as great a marvel of engineering as San Marco’s golden domes. Every palace and every person is reflected in its teal-colored waters creating the mirage-like double image that lends the city its magical quality. Not only has it inspired the extraordinary physical fabric of the city and countless creative and technological inventions, but it also shapes the unconventional and creative spirit of all who reside here. Therein lie possibilities barely imagined in other cities.”
– Paula Hardy

Taking a trip to Venice is like taking a gondola ride back in time, to a fairy tale city of marble palaces built on a lagoon. Kind of sounds like Disneyland actually. But Venice is truly unlike anything I have ever seen before. Imagine the world’s biggest outdoor promenade with the best selection of Venetian cuisine, Prosecco, endless shopping, masquerade influence, canalside bistros, and sightings of romantic gondola rides floating through emerald green and enchanting blue waters. One of the strangest and loveliest things about the city was the absence of cars. No honking, no roads, no traffic, no chaos. Just boats and gondolas taking their sweet time with their awe-inspired passengers. I wish I could have spent a little more time there. If you ever get a chance to visit, and I hope you do, here are some of my personal recommendations and highlights:

GET LOST
Put down your map and wander. Don’t bother trying to find your way – you’ll get lost in Venice no matter what. Even with the best GPS. But that’s the fun part! If you work tirelessly trying to navigate the impossible maze of Venice, you’ll miss what else Venice is hiding; the calming serenade of gondoliers, a morning Spritz in a sunny square, unassuming bars with lavish spreads of cicheti (Venetian tapas), storefront windows displaying the most beautiful Masquerade pieces, and fuschia-pink sunsets that have inspired centuries of artists. I think in Venice they would call these pleasures la bea vita (the beautiful life).
Hotel Mercurio
If you want affordable and authentic lodging in Venice, I would suggest Hotel Mercurio. Just a quick 4-minute walk from the San Marco ferry stop, but perfectly tucked away in Venice and all of its magic. For an unbeatable price, we upgraded to a suite with a canal view which happened to face Mozart’s home. Can’t get more historic than that! Our room was beautifully decorated with Venetian art, high ceilings with wooden beams, Italian furnishings, and marble floors. The hotel also delivered Prosecco to our room and offered complimentary breakfast every morning. Lovely. Just lovely.
Piazza San Marco (aka St. Mark’s Square)
Piazza San Marco is the heart of Venice. I’ve seen it in countless movies, but I never realized it was in Venice. The “lightbulb” moment happened for me when I saw swarms of pigeons frantically fighting for rice and crumbs and I had a flashback of Ashton Kutcher fighting them off in Just Married. Visiting Piazza San Marco is definitely a MUST; here you will see St. Mark’s Basilica with its great arches and marble decoration, the stunning palace of Doge, Piazzetta di Leoncini, the free standing Campanile, the Clock Tower, and a handful of shops and restaurants lining the square. And definitely take some playful photos with the pigeons.
Dal Moro’s – Fresh Pasta To Go
Customized made-to-order food is universal. We all love it. For America it’s Chipotle, and for Venice it’s Dal Moro’s. They were also voted #1 for Italian food in Venice! This unassuming take-out spot serves fresh pasta with made-to-order sauces in Chinese to-go boxes, leaving you to explore Venice with lunch in hand. I sadly did not have a chance to experience Dal Moro’s, but my sister swears by it and I did see the line of people wrapped around the block. That was convincing enough of their popularity.
Lavanderia Gabriella
Laundry. Totally random, but totally necessary. My sister recommended Lavanderia Gabriella after her trip to Venice. And after living out of a backpack for two weeks, I was in desperate need of clean clothes. Gabriella and her adorable mother run their own laundromat and they are perfectly affordable, approx. $15-$20 Euro for 1-2 hefty loads! They’ll even fold your laundry for you. Did I mention Gabriella speaks English? TOTALLY WORTH IT.
Rialto Bridge
Crowded, but another MUST. Ponte di Rialto is Venice’s most popular bridge and overlooks the Grand Canal. The view from the top and center of the bridge offers the most iconic view of Venice where you can observe the gondolas, ferries and boats travel between the most mesmerizing buildings. Try visiting the bridge at sunrise. You won’t regret it.

Up next…SICILY! Specifically Taormina. Come check back soon!

xx

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Rome, Italy

Oh, Rome… a historic powerhouse with haunting ruins, inspiring art, and vibrant street life. Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, it is literally impossible to see Rome in day. In my opinion, you need at least seven. We only had 2 short days in Rome so we saw as much as we could, ate as much as we could, and consumed as much coffee and gelato as we could. The “eternal city” is no doubt the epicenter for artistic heritage and architectural masterpieces, but the Roman lifestyle has a lovely and delicate culture outside of its historic landmarks. In between the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and St. Peter’s Basillica are little details which often go unnoticed, but are an every day part of Rome: the cobblestone streets and hidden corners, charming trattorias and street-side gelato shops, couples embracing each other on the Spanish Steps, the aroma of freshly ground coffee wafting out of its cafes. Rome’s streets and piazzas perfectly made for strolling and people-watching. Something I wish I captured more photos of, but probably wouldn’t have appreciated as much if I had my face behind a camera the entire time. I guess it’s something that should be experienced organically.

Overall, a lovely couple of days spent in Rome. Venice on the blog soon!

xx

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Amsterdam, Netherlands

For those who have never visited Amsterdam, it’s easy to assume a young, daring city with the reputable “coffee shops”, Red Light District, exciting nightlife, and Space Cake. I personally associated it with the hash brownie scene from Eurotrip. But Amsterdam is SO much more than that. It’s a city thriving with history and artistic heritage, a maze of canals and narrow houses, 17th century buildings that tilt at impossible angles, a beautiful countryside with some of the last remaining windmills that are centuries old, and the best made Gouda you will ever have in your life. There are few cities that can combine history with modern urban flair like Amsterdam. This city truly holds a special “personality” if a city could have one.
Bikes, Bikes, Bikes!
Cycling is the heart to Amsterdam’s character. It is a way of life and there are are nearly double the amount of bicycles than residents. Most people own two bikes; one for work, and one for leisure. Bikes are how Amsterdammers do everything – whether riding to work, or meeting a friend for coffee, or heading to a dinner date. If you’re feeling daring, head to a rental shop and take a spin. But you better keep up! Everyone yields to bikes. They simply rule the city.
Canal by Boat
If locals aren’t on a bike, they may well be on a boat. Amsterdam has an endless network of canals and many options for taking a boat ride. I would suggest taking an open-air canal boat or one of the free ferries behind Centraal Station. If you really want a workout, try the paddle-boats. But speaking from experience, it’s only fun for the first ten minutes… and make sure you can paddle and steer fast enough to get out of the way of every other boat on the canal. Paddle-boats never have the right-of-way.
Gezellig!
Amsterdam has a feeling of gezellig, a Dutch trait that translates something similar to content and cozy. It’s easier to experience than define. It’s as if time stands still, an awareness of the present that puts all of your stresses aside, at least until tomorrow. You can feel it anywhere, whether you’re sipping coffee at a traditional cafe, walking aimlessly through the flower market with the smell of fresh waffles in the air, or simple chatter after a tasty dinner. There is a calmness and quietness about this city – and I think it’s gezellig.
Zaanse Schans
Windmills are the icon of Holland. Amsterdam used to be filled with windmills for various purposes, whether to prevent the city from flooding or grinding seeds for mustard. Most of the country’s windmills have been taken down, some relocated to the outer city where wind conditions are more favorable. We ventured out to Zaanse Schans in the Dutch countryside for a day trip to see some of Amsterdam’s remaining windmills, followed by Marken and Volendam. I would highly recommend taking the trip!
Red Light District
Back in the day, as in the early 1300’s, women would practice the “worlds oldest profession” by carrying red lanterns (due to their flattering light), and waiting for sailors near the port. Amsterdam’s infamous Red Light District is a neighborhood of vice, skimpy prostitutes in brothel windows, seductive bars, haze-filled “coffeeshops”, strip clubs, and sex-themed museums. It’s not for everyone – but if you choose to satisfy your curiosity, here are some tips:
1. Watch for pickpockets. The Red Light District can be crowded, especially at night. Sticky fingers could be anywhere…
2. Don’t take pictures or videos of the prostitutes. I’ve heard that pimps will harshly take your phone and toss it into the nearest canal.
3. Have an open mind. The Red Light District leaves nothing to the imagination.
Grub
I noticed an on-going theme with the cuisine in Amsterdam. Dutch waffles (which are thin wafer-like cookies filled with honey or syrup), Gouda which is commonly paired with mustard, French Fries with mayonnaise, and croquettes with ham and cheese. Oh, and Heineken. All of which I was happy to eat in excess every day while I was there. But Amsterdam has inherited a variety of international cuisine including Argentinian steakhouses, Italian trattoria’s, Indonesian cuisine, and German Schnitzel. There is something to satisfy every type of craving. So you better have a big appetite!

A charming city that surprised me in every way. I truly cannot wait to return to Amsterdam one day. Come back soon for when I recap my time in Italy!

xx

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