A weekend in Munich

I’m back! I took a bit of an impromptu break from blogging over the summer, but now I’m back and have plenty of things to tell you about! Better late than never…


One of the biggest perks of living in Paris is the proximity to – and ability to visit – tons of interesting places across Europe. It’s a perk that I haven’t taken advantage of nearly enough. So when I found myself with a bit of spare time, summer weather, and a German friend repeatedly asking me when I might visit, I finally went for it!

A long weekend in Munich, Germany

I have long been interested in visiting Germany, especially Munich and Bavaria, for all its castles and beer and schnitzel and beer… Frenchman, on the other hand, doesn’t like beer and is generally less drawn to destinations in his own backyard. He prefers his vacations to be long, super far, and more exotic than one little border away. I, however, remain resolutely American in my obsession with all things European.

So while he was busy with work and time-consuming side projects, I hopped a flight to visit my friend Franzi, who has been suggesting I come to Munich ever since we finished grad school (where we met) 6 years ago.

I arrived Friday evening and, after dropping off my bags at her place, we headed straight to a beer garden for dinner. It was an excellent, highly Munchen kick-off to the weekend, with literal liters of beer, people just casually in dirndls and lederhosen, and a pretzel as big as my head.

Munich beer garden pretzel

I wish I took more photos; the atmosphere of the Munich beer gardens is just so cool. People of all ages just hanging out and having a nice time. It’s very loose and relaxed, BYO food or you can buy food there, clearly a beloved part of the Bavarian culture. And there are little trucks that drive around picking up all the empty beer steins!

Rathaus, a Glockenspiel, and urban surfers in the English Garden

Saturday was spent walking around the city, from top to bottom. We first had a delicious brunchy breakfast, and then headed straight for the one thing I knew I absolutely needed to see: the Glockenspiel!

(I love how, when the jouster knocks over the other knight, you hear the crowd react)

The Glockenspiel is an ornate cuckoo clock located in the Rathaus (city hall) in the main square, Marienplatz. It has two levels which each play, in turn, with scenes of characters rotating with the music. It only plays at 11am, noon, and 5pm each day so we made sure to see it first so we could wander freely for the rest of the day.

Munich is a pretty small city, making it easy to explore on foot. We started out in Marienplatz, watching the clock, then climbed the Rathaus tower for a nice panoramic view of the square and the rest of the city. As I’ve mentioned before, wherever I go, if there’s a tower to climb, I’ll climb it. In Munich, the main “thing to climb” is the cathedral, St Peter’s, but frankly it was really hot and there was a line. Instead, we went up the Rathaus tower, which still offers a cool view (and an elevator), though you don’t get the higher-level views of the Glockenspiel, which would have been cool. Maybe next time.

I can’t even begin to go into detail on all the other things we saw as we walked around all day. We saw beautiful architecture, a famous delicatessen, the king’s palace, and explored the huge English Garden including a Chinese tower, a beer garden (of course), and a little river with actual surfers? We also stopped in the very unique Asam church built between the homes of two wealthy traders, designed in a spectacular, dramatic style which leaves quite the impression.

We even stopped in a department store to see the dirndl department, because that is a real thing. Like as if you went to Nordstrom and turned to find dirndls and lederhosen for all seasons. They were beautiful and I’m more obsessed than ever.

We took time out for a treat here and there, stopping at a cafe above the famous Viktualienmarkt, a street full of butchers and vendors offering every kind of German sausage you can imagine. We also conveniently stumbled upon a wine festival! Placed right in the middle of Munich, we stopped to sample some regional wines like a Silvaner, which I had never heard of before. We wrapped up the day with some classic German fare, jagerschnitzel and summer shandy beers.

Day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle

Sunday we hit the road for a great Bavarian road trip to Neuschwanstein Castle, better known as “the Disney castle“. This really deserves a post in and of itself to do it justice. It was a long but beautiful drive through the German countryside, and Franzi was an amazing tour guide, whipping to the side of the road when she saw a view she thought I needed a photo of, and making me get out of the car (and run across the road!) to get the best shot.

Neuschwanstein Castle, and neighboring Hohenschwangau Castle, are set in the mountains in the most picturesque setting imaginable. Both castles are beautiful and historically fascinating, and very different in style from opulent French chateaux. Unfortunately, they do not allow photos even without flash, so you’ll have to visit for yourself to peek inside.

We got a joint ticket to visit the 2 castles, which they time perfectly for you to walk up, tour, then walk to the next one. Fair warning though, the “walk” is up the mountain, then down the mountain, then way up the other mountain. You get your exercise for the day, for sure. The area also features an incredible footbridge suspended over a gorge (see photo below), overlooking Neuschwanstein Castle which allows even the most basic tourist to get a truly spectacular view (and photo) of the iconic castle.

Bavaria Neuschwanstein bridgeMunich Neuschwanstein castle bavaria

Residenz Museum

Monday I was flying solo while Franzi was at work, so I hit the town again for a closer look at the sights of Munich.

I saved the museums for my day on my own, after exploring and getting a feel for navigating the city with a local first. I think it was the perfect arrangement, as I wasn’t worried about getting lost and I could visit the museums at my own pace.

I bought the combo ticket for the Residenz Palace, the Treasury, and the theater, which had me set for a good few hours. The palace was incredible, and came with a free audio guide to hear about the history of each and every room, their Rococo design, and fascinating details. The palace is enormous, and at one point even points out the long route versus short route – I took the short route as I was running out of steam so I could move on to the Treasury, which houses beautiful royal jewels, swords, and (creepy) relics.

In desperate need of a break and some lunch after a few hours of museuming, I treated myself to a traditional flammekuche (a flatbread topped with bacon and onions) and a glass of riesling before heading off to Saint Peter’s cathedral. I opted once again not to climb the tower given the line and the heat, so once I finished I made my way back to the English Garden to explore more, watch the swimmers and surfers, and relax for the remainder of my afternoon in the lovely summer sun.

I met up with Franzi for dinner, and we decided to celebrate my last night in Munich with another beer garden. This one has deer! The Hirschgarten, it’s literally called the “Deer Garden”. An excellent end to a great long weekend.

Stray thoughts about Munich

  • Generally, the people are so cheerful and friendly! Especially since it was summer, I found everyone to be very happy and relaxed, which was a striking contrast to Paris
  • The city feels super safe and super clean. Case in point: the metro operates on an honor system! You buy your ticket and have to validate it, but there are no gates to prevent you from just walking through and getting on a train.
  • Munich is more than just beer (riesling! silvaner!). But there is a lot of beer. I mean, it comes by the liter.
  • I have immense respect for Oktoberfest beer servers, who can carry a dozen steins around when I could barely carry one liter stein with one hand and my dinner in the other.

All in all, a long weekend well spent. And it only took me 3 months to tell you about it! (To be fair, this has been sitting, mostly-written, since August. I just never got to finishing it)

I know this was a long one, but I just had so many photos I wanted to share. Munich was a gorgeous city and I was so excited to get out of France to see a different take on architecture, royalty, and general culture. Oh, and beer 🍻

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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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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!

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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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

We went to Barcelona!

Barcelona has been on my list for a long time now, and I finally got to check it – and a new country! – off as visited. Originally, we had planned to visit Barcelona in the summertime, for the prime-time experience of beaches, sunshine, all the good stuff. Unfortunately, life got in the way and by the time we were in a position to plan a trip, we were looking at mid-November. We decided to head on down to Barcelona anyway, even if we wouldn’t be splashing in the waves this time of year. (Spoiler alert: toes were dipped).

A long weekend in Barcelona

We left bright and early in the morning for our short flight – less than 2 hours – to Barcelona. We were in the city and checked into our hotel before it was even lunchtime.

We set out for a walk to get our first taste of the city, both metaphorically and literally, as our plan was to find a place for lunch. We hit our hangry limit just after 1:00 and the (quite touristy, but convenient) restaurant we chose was practically empty. I was aware that people generally eat meals later in Spain, and yet it’s still sort of odd when you get there, it’s 1:30 and this large, popular restaurant is a ghost town.

Anyway, over our meal of essentially high-end fast food, we planned a bit of how we wanted to organize our few days; when to visit the Sagrada Familia basilica, when to see the beaches, and most importantly, when we were going to hit Frenchman’s favorite tapas place.

The answer to that question was: that night for dinner. And two more times. Shh don’t judge us.

Frenchman found this place (Cerveceria Catalana) a couple of years ago when he came to Barcelona with friends. On that trip, they returned daily for their entire stay. I thought they were silly for not exploring more of the food scene, but after trying to explore other options around the city, we just kept coming back. The food is, hands down, better than any other place we tried. Plus, their prices are shockingly reasonable in a town where a tiny plate of mediocre tapas can break the bank. We went all-out on our first dinner – delicious sangria, all the tapas we could handle, AND dessert. We returned for breakfast another day (actually the exact same menu, plus coffee) and dinner again for our last night in town. We just had to get another of those beef tenderloin tapas! So, so good.

But back to the city.

I had a rough list of the things to see, and in the end we managed to get to almost all of them. The advantage of visiting a beach city off-season is that you miss the huge lines most people complain about. What you don’t manage to miss, however, are the prices. Honestly, my main takeaway from this trip was how outrageously expensive everything was. Not food, for once, but actual tourist sites. The Sagrada Familia? 14€ just to go in. 35€ if you want to go up one of the towers. The Gaudí-designed Casa Batlló? 22.50€. Even the cathedrals charge. 6€ here, 9€ there… I watched them turn away an old Spanish woman who just wanted to pray. By the time we had paid for one or two things, our wallets were feeling a little bruised. But in the end we saw a lot, did a lot of walking and plenty of good eating.

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The Paris Catacombs (Happy Halloween!)

Did I tell you about the time I visited the Paris Catacombs?

We stood in line for hours. No, that is not an exaggeration for dramatic effect. Literal hours. We made a bad choice.

Poor, patient Frenchman stood along with me, our feet dying (ready to be put out of their misery and left with the rest of the skeletons down below), wondering why in the world this strange American wanted to do this so badly. If only he knew then what kinds of crazy antics he’d be roped into for all eternity when he decided to marry me. #SaintFrenchman.

It’s not always like this, apparently. We just got very, very unlucky

The Paris Catacombs

The concept of the Les Catacombes is pretty creepy, just at face value. A labyrinth of underground tunnels walled with the scattered bones of millions of people? Shudder. I HAD TO SEE IT.

In effect, what happened is that after centuries and centuries of Paris being a hugely populated metropolis, the city’s cemeteries were filled to the brim. Like, bodies were piled up so badly that they started to wash up in heavy rains, since they could no longer be buried deep enough to stay buried. Seriously: In 1780, a “prolonged period of spring rain caused a wall around Les Innocents to collapse, spilling rotting corpses into a neighboring property.” 😨 Even in the 1700s the smell was, apparently, unbearable. Plus, the city could use some extra land that was otherwise occupied by people who really didn’t seem to be needing such prime real estate.

It was decided: the dead would have to be moved. There was already a warren of tunnels under the city dating from the 13th century, a perfect storage space. Les Innocents cemetery was the first to be emptied, soon followed by all others in the city. An estimated 6 or 7 million skeletons were moved to the new Catacombs. It took 12 years.

The fun part? They didn’t just toss them all in piles. They decorated. A far more dignified way to have your bones dug up and relocated, I suppose. The catacombs have intricately stacked and designed walls, with zillions of femurs all laying one way, toothless skulls all facing front or organized into crosses and patterns. It’s super weird.

Additional fun fact: starting with the French revolution, the deceased were moved directly to the ossuaries, without making a pit stop in a traditional cemetery. They didn’t stop adding bones to the Catacombs until 1860.

Spooky Scary

We finally, finally got to the front of the line to go down into the mysterious catacombs. We slowwwwly snaked around this little garden and around to the main entrance, which looks like a tiny house, painted black. Inside, your ticket is scanned to count the number of people inside (presumably to limit how many enter, as well as to make sure the same number also exits) and down you go!

First, you come to a little exhibit room. I feebly looked at the signs and descriptions on the walls but, after hours of waiting I was here for the main event!

paris-catacombs-gate-to-hell“Arrête, c’est ici l’empire de la mort! / Stop! This is the empire of death! “

Really sets the mood! You enter through this doorway and immediately a weird sense of awe, fascination, and creepyness hits you. It’s chilly and damp. You are literally surrounded by skeletons. Underground.

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