Saturday, July 14, 2018

How I make the most of Paris

For a while last year, it seemed like I was escaping to Paris quite frequently. But something has gone horribly wrong this year - I haven't been to France once! Something I think I need to remedy shortly (please hold as I pull up Skyscanner...)

But simultaneously, Paris has been on my mind recently - what with France going to the World Cup Finals, chats with some lovely French friends, Bastille Day this weekend, and my never ending obsession with all things pastry/macaron.

All this to say, I wanted to reminisce about some of my absolute favourite Paris memories and share how I tend to make the most of Paris each time I go, no matter how short of a time I'm there.

How I make the most of Paris

1. Make time for the things that matter most

For me, this revolves almost entirely around 2 things: eating delicious foods and wandering aimlessly through the city (well, not entirely aimlessly, as I'm usually on the hunt for the next delicious treat).

One of the ways I most enjoy this step is by immediately getting out into the city, wandering the streets in search of some local cuisine. I absolutely love walking down the small side streets, there's usually some sort of hidden gem of a restaurant with no signage that is just waiting for you to pop in.

In Paris, this usually means heading to a patisserie or the nearest macaron shop! However, the last time I was in Paris, I finally went to Frenchie To Go and got a Reuben. So basically, I'm ruined forever.

2. Choose a neighborhood/find the river

I think this holds for pretty much every city I've been to, but my favorite memories of visiting said city has revolved around getting lost in a neighborhood and finding the nearest water to walk along. Whether it's a river, loch, lake, canal, ocean or pond, I find that once you find that body of water, peace just washes over you (pun intended). It's usually the place with the best people watching because these are usually natives showing us how they are enjoying their city.

It's such a love letter to a city to watch others truly enjoying being exactly where they are. In Paris, one of my best memories is finding a Seine-side bar that had a pop-up horseshoe pit, tables and chairs along the river, with a bridge above us and boats floating on by. We spent the evening just pretending we were one of the locals and watched the sun fade along the river.

Basically, the tip is find your happy place. For Dan and me, that is quite often near water. But as far as Parisian neighborhoods go, we always gravitate toward Montmartre. Who doesn't love the old-school class of art and the utterly Parisian chic architecture and culture at the top of a hill overlooking the city?

3. Try something new/take a walking tour

While it always gives me that warm fuzzy feeling going back to the familiar, cozy feel of a well known and explored neighborhood in Paris, I also love to try somewhere new each time. It's a BIG city with so much to offer and each arrondissement has a personality. Even the touristy options seem to be endless. So I try to at least do one more touristy thing each time and one sort of off-the-beaten-path thing.

On our most recent visit, we finally made it to the Luxembourg Gardens!! And it seemed to be a blend of both touristy AND local. While not off-the-beaten-path at all, it was so calm and peaceful as old men played Petanque and kids played on the jungle gyms.

Another very fond memory I have is taking the free Sandemans tour of Paris. Every time I take one of those tours in cities, they are always quite informative and interesting. However, I'd say Paris is one of the top ones I've been on. I think it was a combination of our very engaging and passionate tour guide and the fact that I hadn't fully appreciated so much of the rich history of Paris beforehand. These tours are my favourite thing to do early on on a trip so that I can get the lay of the land and then maybe choose to explore something more based on what I learned on the tour.

4. Make a plan to return

No matter how much you fit in, or how much time you have in Paris, it's best to just plan the return trip as soon as you can! I think this city gets better each time I go. Partially because it becomes less and less intimidating, more and more familiar, but also more and more of a mystery. Seriously, I gotta go book a flight.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

A Slovenian (+ Italian + Austrian) Road Trip

One of the most underrated countries that we've visited thus far has been Slovenia. I'd been seeing blog & instagram posts about it for a while and the only thing I knew about it was it had "that Church on that island". So, I knew pretty much nothing.

So as you do when you know nothing about a country, we booked a trip and started planning/reading up on it!

We found out pretty quickly that the best way to see this country was by car since much of what we wanted to see (that Church on that island) was away from the main cities. We also saw how close the Italian & Austrian borders were and I was even more excited to fit in some additional countries on our extended weekend trip. We had known someone else that had done a similar road trip, and pretty much everywhere she went was picture perfect. So, for my photographer husband (and me!), this was shaping up to be quite exciting.

But we still didn't truly know what we were getting into until we arrived in Slovenia. The pictures, stories & posts just don't do it justice. This country and its charm is something you have to experience for yourself in order to understand! But I can try and paint a picture for you (and show you a few as well!)

When you first land into Ljubljana, you are between the Julian Alps. We went in late November, so the Alps were lightly dusted in snow. Already you feel like you are in a bit of a fairytale.

Then as we drove toward Lake Bled (with the Church on the island), the Alps were even more majestic. Lake Bled is nestled at the base of the Julian Alps and in a valley with the town encircling the lake, with the Church at the center of it all. We stayed right along the lake and woke up to that view each morning. And since it was late November, it was absolutely peaceful & calm. I think during the summer, Bled is probably inundated with tour buses. So to have it somewhat to ourselves was even more of a treat. Although it was quite crisp & chilly, the sun still shone & made for quite a day!

So what's the first thing we did? Well, we rented a row boat to row ourselves out to the island to see this Church of course! It was so much fun (and rowing is no joke!) Thankfully Dan did most of the rowing as my attempt made us go in circles for a while ;)

We then continued to explore the town, walk around the lake, stop in for some local eats/fantastic wine, & had a nice relaxing evening in this adorable town.

The next morning we hiked to the top of the mountain overlooking the lake to try and capture the sunrise. But the sun that had graced us the day before decided that was enough, and then the winter-y weather rolled in. So we made our way back down and decided that we'd drive to Italy & Austria that day.

In order to do that, we drove up into the Alps that separate Slovenia from Italy and discovered even more beauty, emerald green lakes & snow.

After making it over to Italy, we stopped into the little border town of Tarvisio for a late lunch. Pro Tip: if ever in Tarvisio, go to Al Lepre! The staff were very friendly and the food was delicious! The food was very reasonably priced and the atmosphere was extremely cosy. I had the Gnocchi and it was absolutely DELICIOUS. My mouth is still watering thinking about it!!

Then we continued into Austria and stumbled across a Christkindlmarkt (Christmas Market) in Villach. It was the perfect timing for a market as the days were growing shorter and colder and a nice cup of Gluhwein was exactly what I needed :)

We spent the evening walking around looking at the stalls, watching people ice skate & eating some of the delicious Brezeln before heading back to Lake Bled for our last night.

The next day, before leaving the northern region of Slovenia, we went to see the largest lake in the country - Lake Bohinj. It was even more magical as it had snowed the night before and we arrived to a serene winter wonderland. It was like we were inside a snow globe!

After wandering around the lake for a while, we spent the rest of the afternoon/early evening in Ljubljana! We walked around the old town, ate some delicious (and humongous) pizza, and enjoyed soaking in some of the local culture.

As we headed back to the airport, we were already planning our return trip. It was such a beautiful and surprisingly accessible country and I am already missing the food, wine & views.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Oldest British Village

One of our first weekend trips after moving to London was a visit to Britain's oldest Roman city, Colchester. It still had a standing Roman wall from approximately year 65.

As in 1,952 years ago...😲

Colchester is only about 50 miles from London, making it the perfect day trip!

We were excited not only to see the capital of Roman Britain, but also to just see life outside of London as it was our very first trip outside the city after we had moved.

After taking the train about an hour northeast, we arrived in the small little village. It was a quite cloudy, yet bright, February day. We immediately started wandering about the city centre and stumbled upon things we hadn't even known about the city. We saw the town hall and the main street full of shops, we popped into the natural history museum, and also found the Colchester Castle! It was like a little oasis in the middle of the village. It was surrounded by gardens and flowers and trees.

After wandering the grounds a bit more, we made our way to the area where the remaining wall still stands. It was amazing to see in person and the original entrance, the Balkerne Gate, was impressive. It is the earliest and most complete Roman gateway in the United Kingdom. It also happens to be connected to a pub - one of the most British things possible!

We stepped into the pub for a bit and had a pint to toast to Dan's graduation, which was the celebratory catalyst for this trip. We spent the afternoon wandering a bit more, chatting with some locals at another pub, and of course grabbing a bite to eat before heading back to London.

All in all, it was a nice trip to kick off our life in the UK, and fanned the flames of our wanderlust even more, which hasn't shown any signs of being extinguished yet!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Roman Birthday

For my 28th (yikes!) birthday, Dan took me to one of the top mainland European destinations on my ever-increasing bucket list...Rome.

Italy is full of everything I adore: history, gelato, pasta, pizza, gelato (oh, did I say that twice?), beautiful architecture, wine, amazing sunsets, and amazing people.

Although we only got to spend 2 days in the Eternal City, we packed it full with memories and a FIRM plan to return.

To start off, we took an extremely early flight from London on my birthday and arrived in Rome around 10 am. We took a bus into the city and walked to our flat. It was right around the corner from the Pantheon, and we inadvertently got to do quite a bit of sightseeing on the walk to our place (not to mention get the first gelato of the trip). Fun story: I've been using the Duolingo App (highly recommend btw) to brush up on my German and learn a bit of Italian, and one of the frequent sentences it has me speak/write/etc. is..."Il gelato non è una colazione" which snark-ily means "Ice Cream is not a breakfast." Thanks, but no thanks, Duolingo. I'd like to see you stop me. Because the first thing I did when arriving in Rome was to eat Gelato - so on my birthday, Ice Cream WAS a breakfast.

Now, I also have to mention that another HUUGE draw to Rome for us was Roman Holiday (you know, Audrey Hepburn's big film debut that was filmed entirely in Rome?!) Well needless to say, Dan and I, among many others who visit Rome, were intent on recreating a few of the iconic scenes. As we walked to our flat and passed through the Pantheon square, I was instantly transported to that scene in the movie where they sat at the sidewalk cafe drinking champagne!

So after getting to our place (which by the way was adorable and in such a great location) and dropping our stuff off, we hit the pavement again.

As we hit the town, we decided to go try another Roman Holiday scene - the eating of gelato on the Spanish Steps...

Next we walked through the city, along the river over the bridge by Castel Sant'Angelo (while looking for dancing on a boat by the river, but alas, there was none in sight), and walked to the Vatican. We knew we wouldn't make it inside because it was almost 4 pm and we knew the lines would be crazy long and that they stop admitting new people after 4 pm. But even from the outside and in the courtyard of Vatican City, it is so impressive and awe-inspriing. We enjoyed walking around and eventually decided to take a quick break for pizza of course with a lovely view of this dome.

After our little break, we resumed the walking festivities. We found ourselves walking along the river and soaking in the afternoon sun, the slow and calming movement of the water and the peace of the day. We walked over to the neighborhood where we had planned to have dinner....which was of course AMAZING homemade pasta. I'm drooling just remembering it! After dinner we stumbled upon a band playing in one of the squares and just sat and listened for a while.

That night we had tickets to Caesar's Forum, which I highly recommend if you ever go to Rome. One of the things on our must-do lists when we return is to experience the other forum tour - Augustus' Forum. It brings history to life through a nighttime stroll of the grounds by recreating (via light projectors) the ruins we see now into buildings that stood tall and pristine when they were first built.

As Caesar's forum is in the centre of the ancient city ruins, we walked over to the Colosseum after the tour and just hung out in front of it and took some pictures. It was so relaxing and we chatted with a few people while there - it seemed to be the place everyone just comes to hang out. On our walk back to the flat, we passed the monument that we had seen earlier in the day, the Altare della Patria, which was built in honor of the first king of a unified Italy. 

The next day, we started with a full italian breakfast - which was right up my alley! It was coffee and croissants. See - the Italians just get me! After breakfast we walked around to check off a few more tourist items. We made a bee-line for the Trevi fountain (Roman Holiday alert!) and promptly tossed our 2 coins each into the pool of water. Now we are guaranteed to come back to Rome! We wouldn't want to have messed with that fate.

The last big item on our list was to tour the Roman Forum. If you only have time for one major 'ruin' in Rome, I highly recommend the Roman Forum! The audio guide was fantastic, we arrived in the morning and almost had the place to ourselves (until about 12 or 1) and you are literally walking where the ancient Romans walked and getting a glimpse into everyday life in ancient Rome. The architecture and what still survives after thousands of years is just so impressive.

After we had examined every inch of the Roman Forum, it was time for us to head back to the bus station to head back to the airport. We of course had to first eat a bit more pizza and pasta (you know, because nutrition)!

Everyone says that you need multiple days in Rome and I couldn't agree more. I will be back, Rome. But this birthday weekend trip was so amazing in so many ways, and it was perfect for a quick getaway.