Visiting Monet’s Waterlilies at Giverny

I have been kind of obsessed with Impressionism since, well, since I learned what Impressionism was. Monet, Degas, Renoir… I was hooked. Something about the colors and blurred perspectives and, I’m sure, the French aesthetic just drew me in in a way no other genre or period of art ever had.

I was lucky Boston’s Museum of Fine Art has a nice collection, but the very first time I went to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and walked into the dedicated Impressionist gallery, I nearly cried. It was overwhelming to be surrounded by the magnificent paintings I had only ever seen in books, and to see them up close, down to every brush stroke. To this day, the d’Orsay holds the title as my favorite museum in Paris.

However, this is not about the Musée d’Orsay. All this is just to set the scene for how excited I was for a visit to Monet’s home and gardens – including the infamous waterlily pond, in Giverny, France.

Visiting Monet in Giverny

As we explored Normandy with my parents and in-laws, the idea surfaced to try to stop in Giverny on our way back to Paris. As soon as the seed was planted, I was resolved that we had to go, whether my parents liked it or not! We had no plans other than the drive that day, so we had plenty of time to stop and stretch our legs with a stroll across the Japanese bridge over the waterlilies, so why not go for it?

Just 45 minutes or so outside of Paris, Monet’s home sits just off a busy road, but is nicely secluded by pedestrian walkways, quaint buildings housing small shops, and plenty of trees and gardens. For just 10€, you gain access to explore his beautiful home (so brightly colored!) including his studio with replicas of all the paintings that hung there when he was working. You can also wander among Monet’s extensive gardens which apparently are true to how he kept them himself, as he was a prolific gardener. (Who knew?)

Monet Giverny houseMonet Giverny studio

And of course, the pièce de resistance, you can take a stroll around le bassin aux nymphéas, the waterlily pond that inspired so many of Monet’s most famous works.

It was like stepping into another world, turning the corner of the pathway to suddenly see the pond, waterlilies, and green arched bridge. Like Mary Poppins jumping into a sidewalk drawing, suddenly there I was, leaving the real world and stepping into Monet’s paintings. It was incredible.

Maybe I’m overselling it, but it was so surreal to stand in the middle of art that has inspired the world. And it made it feel so real and so much more impactful when, a few days later, we visited the d’Orsay and the Musée de l’Orangerie, which together house some of Monet’s most impressive works, including giant waterlily panoramas.

Monet Musee lOrangerie

We didn’t have enough time, but just down the road, there is also an Impressionist museum dedicated to Monet, of course, plus the history of the movement, that I would like to check out one day. There are also a few impressive chateaux in the area, if you want to make a whole weekend of it! As always, so much to see, so little time.

Monet Giverny house garden

To the beaches of Normandy

Warning: this is a long one. But there are lots of photos, I promise

I’m finally recovering from Parents in Paris: Part 2.

After more than a year since their first trip, my parents finally made it back to Paris. We’ve been planning this since last year and I was so excited to see them.

Their first trip to France was a big deal, so getting them back for a second year in a row was a challenge… until we dangled Normandy as an option in front of my dad, a big WWII history buff (like everyone’s dad). From there, convincing them to make the trip was a piece of cake.

A long weekend in Normandy

My parents came over for about 10 days, but the main event was our road trip to Normandy, along with Frenchman and his own parents for a car full of family fun. We all piled in the clown car bright and early to head straight to Étretat, a place I’ve been eager to see in person.

You arrive at the water’s edge between two tall, green hills looking out over the water. To the right, beautiful cliffs topped with a little church. To the left, the iconic view of the cliffs, the arch and the needle (“aiguille”).

After exploring a bit to take it all in, we headed off to Honfleur where we walked around the old port town a while before dinner.

For the night, we had found the most charming B&B I’ve ever seen (shout-out to Manoir de La Guérie). The B&Bs are, I think, my favorite part of this whole trip, as each one was beautiful and such a fantasy in each their own way.

The next morning, after a delicious homemade breakfast including an old Normandy rice dish and local stinky cheeses, we set out for Caen. The Mémorial de Caen, also known as the Peace Museum, was at the top of my dad’s to-do list, and for good reason. This incredible museum is absolutely a must-see. It’s not fun, but it is incredibly moving, impressive, and very very full of information about every minute of the invasion (débarquement) at each site, powerful video footage, and what happened next.

The day continued on to Omaha beach, the American Cemetery at Colleville, and finally to Pointe du Hoc. This sequence of sites was, I think, well conceived, as we began with many images and powerful films and difficult information, then moved on to the beaches where the D Day landings took place including remnants in the water, then to the vast cemetery honoring those who fought, and then ended in a place so scarred with craters, even over 70 years later, that you can really see the literal impact the war and the D Day invasion had on the area.

This was a powerful, emotional day, and I am so glad I got to visit these places, especially to be able to bring my dad there as well.

Normandy Memorial de Caen museumNormandy Arromanches

After a heavy day, we lightened things up with a stop at a Calvados producer – located in a building built in the 12th century. Nbd. We tasted some calvados (a very strong apple-based aperitif) and, of course, all walked out with a few bottles of pommeau, cider, and calvados each.

For our B&B for the night, we stepped into another world as we stayed in a legitimate chateau, tower and all. My parents got the room attached to the tower (it was their bathroom!), but I wasn’t jealous because I got to sleep like a princess…

Day 3 and still so much more to see, despite the weather failing us a bit and turning grey and misty after getting so lucky with sun the days before. First stop was Sainte-Mère-Église, famed for the parachutist who got caught on the church steeple and hung there for hours through the battle and, incredibly, survived. Today, a model hangs on the church as a reminder.

After this final stop on my dad’s D Day landing must-see list, our next stop was Mont Saint Michel. An incredible sight to see anyway, this had special interest as it had been over 40 years since my mother visited it and stayed in the now quite famous Mère Poulard inn on the mont. The weather cleared a bit and we had beautiful views as we explored the medieval hill street and ramparts, the abbey, and the vast bay in low tide.

We left Mont Saint Michel to head to our last dinner and final B&B, of yet another sort, which turned out to be a 1200s-era building on a full hectare of meticulously kept French gardens and the most amazing breakfast of a dozen homemade jams, a tarte, fresh (homemade) breads, fruit salad all picked from the garden, and more. Such an excellent finish to the B&B tour (shout-out here to Le Clos Saint Gilles).

After such a wonderful few days, we were all sad to pack up and start the drive home from Normandy.  But! we snuck in a stop in Giverny to stretch our legs and check out Monet’s home and famous gardens, which I will save for another time as I think this story is long enough already.

My parents then had a few more days left of their trip to spend in Paris and Saint Germain en Laye, which were spent checking out our new hometown and visiting a few museums that we missed in their whirlwind tour last spring.

All in all, we had a packed 4 days in Normandy, and we managed to see just about everything we set out to and lucked out with some gorgeous weather in a place not known for sunshine and blue skies. Everywhere we went was lovely, and I can’t wait for an excuse to go back for more rolling countryside and picturesque villages.

Normandy Mont Saint Michel sunset purple

24 Hours in Krakow, Poland

The coolest thing about living in Europe is the proximity to a dozen other countries just a hop, skip and a jump away, right?

Well, it turns out that when you have a full-time job plus other responsibilities (or you, I don’t know, buy a house…) it becomes not-so-easy to just jetset around the continent. Truth bomb: flights and trains are still very expensive. All those people snagging 49€ last-minute flights must be leaving on a Tuesday mid-afternoon, because they don’t have an office job.

Anyway, the point is that I’ve barely made a dent in my long list of travel destinations, thanks to a cornucopia of complications. But I got lucky!

An opportunity fell in my lap to visit a place I never much thought about: Poland!

Krakow, Poland

Thanks to a work event, I found myself on a quick, 24-hour trip to Krakow, Poland. It’s a nice turn of events when you get to visit somewhere you might never have gone otherwise.

And I will say, my overall impression of Krakow is just that. It’s a place that’s pretty cool and there are some interesting things to see, but it’s not somewhere I would have chosen over other destinations for a weekend trip. So I’m happy I got to check it out.

Just about a 2-hour flight from Paris, we landed in Cracovie mid-afternoon and immediately realized that our gaggle of 6 colleagues were completely unprepared. Not one of us thought to look at how to get from Aiport → to Hotel. #Professional.

It also never occurred to me until I was literally sitting at Charles de Gaulle airport to check whether or not Poland is on the Euro. They are not. We needed złoty.

Fortunately, 6 professional adults can, eventually, coordinate and problem-solve to find transportation into the city (and exchange some money). Fortunately, this was made simple on both counts. Krakow’s public transportation – both regional trains and city trams – were super efficient, fast, and cheap. The exchange rate of złoty to euro is like 4:1, so there were no unpleasant surprises after our organizational failure.

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We made it to the hotel where we met up with 2 other (much more organized) colleagues, who had been there for lunch already and scoped out recommendations for a really cool bar. We checked in, stowed our bags, and immediately set out for a drink. (No need to consider that we were about an hour from attending an event with bottomless vodka…)

I very quickly came to the conclusion that Krakow is filled with tons of very cool cafes and bars. Eszeweria, our first stop, was no exception, and we managed to stumble on another very cool coffee shop the next day as well. Both a bit dark and gritty in the coolest of ways, atmosphere-wise.

Our hotel, and the event venue, was located in the old Jewish quarter of Krakow, which has a very cool, grungy feel that is exactly what you might expect of Eastern Europe. Dark vibes, unkempt buildings, street art, the works. What you might not expect, on the other hand, is that this also includes a lot of pink buildings?

Krakow City Center

After a shenanigan-filled evening of “work” (consisting of a 4-course dinner, lots of wine, literally bottomless vodka on the tables, a win for our team! and quite a dance party), we had all of Friday to see the sites… some of us a little more chipper than others.

Unfortunately, the weather was absolutely abysmal. It was super cold, and pouring rain that just seemed to get worse and worse as the day wore on. (It’s worth noting here that I had to edit and lighten every photo on here because they came out so dark.)

Despite the wet weather, we all were determined to make the most of it. We headed out to the main square – Rynek Główny – and its historic Cloth Hall. Apparently Krakow was spared from much of the destruction of the war, unlike Warsaw, so the beautiful old buildings in the center are all still standing. I can only guess that, on a sunny day, the square is really pretty and lively.

We made a stop for a coffee mid-morning, as much to take a break from the rain as for those who were feeling the effects of open-bar vodka. This little cafe was just as cool as the other, with a giant teddy bear on the wall, old school desks for tables, and a general unfussy vibe. Plus, you know, coffee.

After recharging, we walked a bit more through the city and past the old Wawel castle up on the hill on our way to lunch. The best part!

I had put in a special request that wherever we went for lunch to include pierogies. I love pierogi, and they’re shockingly hard to find in restaurants, at least for non-exorbitant prices. Why Polish dumplings should be an overpriced delicacy, I do not understand.

And so I got to impart my love for pierogies to the uninitiated French with two different kinds(!) before trying a delicious traditional stew, which was just what I needed on such a cold, wet day. Oh, and don’t forget dessert.

And everything was super affordable! Favorable exchange rate aside, this was a pretty nice restaurant (Miod Malina) and their most expensive main was around 70 złoty, or 16€/$18. If nothing else, Poland gets big points for being inexpensive.

After lunch, we had a few more hours before we had to head back to the airport. We passed a pretty church, which I suggested we go in instead of wandering by, then went up to the castle, but no one really wanted to go in. The rain was getting so much worse and it was really bringing us down. We mustered enough enthusiasm to walk around towards the river and found an actual, fire-breathing dragon! (fire not pictured) and then made our way back to the Jewish quarter.

If the weather had cooperated, I really would have liked to spend more time in this part of the city. There’s really a lot to see, including a mapped tour of major Jewish sites, plus restaurants, art galleries, interesting buildings, and I’m sure so much more.

Ultimately though, we had to cut our losses (my shoes and socks were soaked through) and went back to the hotel to grab our stuff and head to the airport.

Extra things about Poland

(because if I really write about them, this post will never end)

  • In the above-mentioned church, there was a brand new crypt, intended to be the modern/future National Pantheon. They’re just waiting for more notable figures to die
  • The architecture in Krakow is super cool. Nearly every single building has interesting details built in, whether molding or tiles or something else
  • You can climb the tower of the cathedral in the main square. The views should be quite cool
  • Nearby, there is apparently a very cool old salt mine to visit. Perfect if you are in Krakow for a long weekend and want to see a community with church and everything 200 meters underground
  • Krakow is also accessible to Auschwitz, if you are inclined to visit it. If Frenchman had been able to join for the weekend I would have considered it, but I didn’t want to go alone, nor with coworkers for what I imagine is a deeply personal experience.
  • The Polish word for presents is prezenty. Soup is zupy. Salad is salady. Breakfast is… smorgasbord. Now I know where that came from. I can rest easy.

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Visiting Sainte-Chapelle

I’ll start by saying yes, I admit it. I kind of abandoned you. You the reader, you the anthropomorphized blog. I was going strong for a month or so there at the start of the year, feeling enthusiastic and creative. Then I got distracted by work and felt like I didn’t have anything new to say.

So, sorry about that. But here’s a new tale about an old place, the church of Sainte-Chapelle.

Paris’ Sainte-Chapelle

This place, you guys.

I’ve been twice, the first time more than 10 years ago on my high school “exchange” trip. And honestly, after two weeks in France and countless awe-inspiring sights seen, Sainte Chapelle was the one that really stuck in my mind years later. It truly is breathtaking.

I was excited to visit it again last year, when the parents came to town. As one of my favorite sites in all of Paris, I made sure that it was a priority on the to-do list of their trip.

Located practically across the street from the much more well known Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle is unassuming in comparison. A gothic chapel dating from the 13th century, the age alone is impressive. Inside it’s even more impressive, and interesting.

Then you go upstairs.

Sainte Chapelle Paris upstairs og.jpg

Up until this point, Sainte-Chapelle is beautiful and interesting, but not necessarily moreso than any other medieval church you may visit. But upstairs, you step out of the stairwell into this chamber that just glows with vibrant stained glass and stretches skyward in beautiful arches. It’s breathtaking and magical.

Sainte Chapelle Paris windows

I could sit and stare and marvel at the stained glass in this place for hours. You have to wonder how on earth they could create something this magnificent in the 1200s. And it’s amazing that the chapel has been so well preserved and maintained over the course of it’s long history, surviving to gleam gold and glitter with blue and red and yellow well into the 21st century.

A Brief History of Sainte-Chapelle

In case you’re curious, here’s the Cliff’s Notes of the history. Located on Ile de la Cité, Sainte Chapelle was built as the royal chapel of Palais de la Cité, which was the royal palace residence of French kings at the time. Construction began in 1284, commissioned by Louis IX to hold his collection of Christian relics.

Approximately 2/3rds of the stained glass windows are original from the 13th century, despite the church suffering some damage during the French revolution. At this time, whole pieces of the chapel were damaged or removed, and the extensive collection of relics was looted. Sainte-Chapelle was restored in the early 1800s.

More than a decade after my first visit, and plenty of impressive, ancient churches and historical sites visited all over Europe, I still come back to this place as one of the most beautiful and unique I’ve ever seen.

The Sunshine Blogger Award

Move over Academy Awards. There’s a new golden prize in town and it’s name is not Oscar. It’s the Sunshine Blogger Award.

What?

What is the Sunshine Blogger Award?

The Sunshine Blogger Award is a nomination given to bloggers by bloggers. Members of the blogging community nominate others who they think are inspiring and bring sunshine into the lives of their readers.

Neelie over at Neelie’s Next Bite (a food blog I can get behind – always looking ahead to the next delicious thing on the horizon!) was nice enough to nominate little old me! Very cool of her, and now it’s my turn to spread the love.

The Rules
1. Thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog on your blog. (☝️️)
2. Answer the 11 questions your nominating blogger asked you. (👇)
3. Nominate other blogs and give them 11 questions to answer.
4. Notify your nominees.
5. List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post. ☀️️

sunshinebloggeraward

And now for the questions:

1. What is it that you like most about travelling?

It’s fun! This is one of those questions where people can get very philosophical, but I like to keep things simple. Travel is fun – there’s sun or snow, good food, beautiful things to see… there’s always something new to discover, no matter where to you travel to (even if it’s your own hometown).

2. What’s your favourite way of travelling and why (by bus, car, plane..)?

Probably train. Planes are a hassle – airports are far and hard to get to and security is a pain. Cars can be stressful, depending on the driver and traffic. And forget busses – I don’t need that kind of motion sickness in my life. Travelling by train is great, because stations are often city-center and you don’t get that nasty dried-out-yet-greasy feeling that sealed airplanes give you. You can step off the train and hit the ground running to see your destination straight away!

3. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve eaten during your travels?

I love food, but I’m not the most daring of eaters. The weirdest thing so far is probably… tripe? #AmateurHour over here, I know. But it was my very first trip to France when I was 17, and that rubbery, …distinctive texture was something I still do not forget to this day, more than a decade later.

4. What’s the most wonderful encounter you’ve had with local people in a different country?

In Italy, I had my dream scenario (mostly) play out in real life. I was in Florence and, though we were mostly winging it, there was one restaurant I had picked out in advance for its great reviews and reputation as a local favorite. So there we were, enjoying our delicious Italian meal, when the guy at the table next to us spontaneously starts chatting with us and invited us to stay over a bottle of wine. I was living a movie cliche and it was great.

5. What travel experience will you never ever forget about?

This is an easy one! My trip to Vienna. It was Christmastime and it was beautiful. Lights and trees and Christmas markets everywhere! Oh, and it was where I got engaged 😊 A completely unforgettable trip for so many reasons.

6. What do you miss most about home when you’re travelling?

My cat. As an expat, I sort of always feel a little bit like I’m travelling. So what feels like “home” can vary in meaning. Sometimes missing home is where I live now, my bed, my life. Sometimes missing home is home-home, back on ever-comforting and familiar American soil. But no matter which home I’m thinking of, the one true constant is that furry little nutcase. She’s a weirdo, but she’s our weirdo and we always miss her when we’re away!

7. What’s your travel ritual, something you always do before or during your trip?

Quadruple check that I have my passport, constantly. I’m always afraid I’m going to either lose it or forget it.

8. Are you more a chilling-at-the-beach or a mountain-climbing type of person?

If those are the only options, you’ll definitely find me firmly entrenched on the beach. If there’s a spectrum to be played with, then I’d say I’m usually somewhere in the middle! It all depends on the day and destination. Sometimes I want to go hiking in Iceland. Other times I want to lay on the beach and only get up for brunch. Sometimes I want to hit the streets and walk my feet off in a cool new city. (but I pretty much never want to go mountain climbing)

9. What place do you think every traveller should have seen at least once in their lives?

Paris. But I’m biased.

But really! It’s cliché and on every Top Something List for a reason. See the Eiffel Tower and tell me it’s not crazy impressive. Eat a baguette with French cheese and wine on the terrasse of a cafe and just try to tell me it’s not awesome. I dare you.

10. Do you use a guidebook when you travel or do you just wander off into the unknown?

I don’t do guidebooks. I do spreadsheets. Lots and lots of spreadsheets, and documents, and columns organizing activities with links and promo codes and times of day and notes.

11. What’s your ultimate travel goal?

To see all the places on my list (an impossible goal – the list keeps growing!)

Miami Beach Sunshine Palm Trees s

And now my turn for nominations!

I’m no big famous blogger, but I believe that basically any blogger can bring “sunshine” into their readers’ lives, even if the only readers are their parents. Especially if the only readers are their parents!

So, I nominate the following intrepid bloggers for the Sunshine Blogging Award:

1) Paulie from Paulie Loves Food (I mean the name alone… I feel you)

2) The gals over at Her Happy Heart (you had me at “lazy lady”)

3) The eponymous Thivy Michelle for cool fashion and cooler tips

4) Darrica from Dear Darrica for her real talk on how much grocery shopping sucks (and other stuff)

My questions for you:

  1. Why did you start blogging?
  2. What is your all-time favorite thing you’ve ever written?
  3. What are you most looking forward to in the next few months?
  4. What are you least looking forward to in the next few months?
  5. Name 1 place you would go right this second if you had a free ticket.
  6. What is the most exciting thing you’ve ever done?
  7. What is something you’ve done that you don’t want to do again?
  8. Would you rather live in a big city or the rural countryside forever?
  9. What type of food could you not live without?
  10. What’s your favorite color – and how many things can you see right now that are that color?
  11. What brings sunshine into your life?

Now go be sunshiney! We could use it around here, it’s been rainy and awful in Paris for days. Here’s hoping spring comes sooner rather than later!

Salon de l’Agriculture

Every spring, Paris plays host to a massive agricultural expo, called the Salon de l’Agriculture. Held in the exact same location as my beloved Salon du Chocolat (but about 18 times larger), this event is something I’ve been curious about since seeing it featured briefly on TV once, and since wondering whether there was a Salon du Fromage or something of equally delicious interest.

With a mind to see some cows and taste some cheese, Frenchman and I decided to pay a visit to this festival of French agriculture.

We did not know what we were getting into.

Salon de l’Agriculture

salon-de-lagriculture-pavillons

We bought our tickets and made our way to the Porte de Versailles convention and expo area, blissfully unaware of the chaos that awaited us. I honestly cannot convey to you the immense scale of this event. Continue reading

Love at the Musée Rodin

What’s more romantic than an evening spent in the company of the most iconic kiss in the world?

rodin-museum-night-the-kiss-baiser

Forget your impossible-to-get reservations for overpriced 18-course meals you’ll only partly like. For Valentine’s Day, Frenchman and I took romance to the next level. We went to the Musée Rodin.

rodin-museum-night-romance

I was lucky enough to get my name on a list for the exclusive #SoiréeLove event at the Rodin Museum, so we gratefully gave up trying to find affordable romantic plans (we did just buy a home, after all) and took the even better idea that fell in our laps.

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Lunch at l’Église de la Madeleine

Here’s the thing about living in Paris. There are hundreds of “major” sites to visit, all of them surely spectacular, but unlike when visiting on vacation you’ve got work and real life to attend to so you never even get to half of them.

Literally so much to see, so little time to see it. How many things in your own hometown have you not visited except maybe when friends are in from out of town?

Fortunately for me, I work with a fun office manager who has a penchant for planning visits to nearby things to see. Our office is right in the heart of the city, so we’re perfectly placed to zip out and back during a lunch break. We’ve got a couple other expats, but quite a few French like to come as well because, like I said, it’s hard to find time to see everything in your own city when you’ve got everyday life to do.

So where did we visit this time?

La Madeleine

madeleine-paris-day

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Romance in Paris

It’s February! My how time flies when you’re having fun up to your neck in cardboard boxes.

The Monsieur and I are officially moved into our new place and things are looking good (we finally have a couch!). It got a little hairy in there when some door handles got broken and a dryer was delivered without the washer it’s supposed to go on top of (even though we had already paid for it…?) but the course of a move never did run smooth. All things considered, it went well. The trick now is furnishing the place so we have places to put our stuff away and more than 1 pot to cook in. Baby steps.

Anyway, we’re here now and I thought what better time to think about romance in Paris than now, after moving into our very own place just before Valentine’s Day?

valentines-day-paris-love-romance

Romantic Things to Do in Paris for Valentine’s Day

In the lead-up to V-Day, here’s my list of romantic things to do in and around Paris, prefect for Valentine’s Day (or any day!)

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My Calendar of Paris Events 2017

It’s January, the start of a new year. Everyone at work, though just back from their holiday breaks, has been talking about what trips and vacations everyone has planned for the year. While I don’t have all of my weekend jaunts and 3-week retreats scheduled just yet, it got me thinking about what’s on deck for 2017.

So here it all is! A schedule of all the events and noteworthy Paris things to come this year that I’ve got on my radar. Give or take a few dozen, that is:

Paris Calendar of Events

January 1st – New Year’s Day

Everything’s closed. France is hungover. Everyone starts wishing each other Happy New Year, “meilleurs vœux” for the new year, “plein de bonnes choses,” health and happiness and all that good stuff.

January 6th (ish) – Galette des Rois

The “King Cake” is not like the New Orleans Mardi Gras version. This flaky, buttery, almond-flavored pastry is shared around the 6th of January (Epiphany) between family, among friends, and even very commonly in offices. In the galette is hidden a little “fève“, a tiny figurine, and whoever finds it in their slice is King (or Queen) and gets to wear a crown. There are whole traditions surrounding cutting the galette, the youngest person hides under the table and picks who each slice goes to, etc. Point is, it’s a delicious tradition and everybody loves it.

events-paris-galette-des-rois