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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The Fête des Vendanges

Last year, I just missed the Fête des Vendanges. It ended the 9th of October. I arrived the 10th.

This year, there was no way I was going to miss this!

La Fête des Vendanges 2016

A “fête des vendanges” is a wine harvest festival. THE Fête des Vendanges is a wine harvest festival in Paris itself, in Montmartre. Because there’s a vineyard in Montmartre. Did you know that?

montmartre-vineyard-paris

So this particular Fête isn’t just any wine-soaked fête, it’s a wine-soaked fête perched atop the highest point in Paris, surrounding the iconic Sacre Cœur and overlooking the rest of the city. So you can see why I was determined to go to this year’s event.

Many towns and regions have their own Wine Festivals, as you can imagine, being in France, the Land of Wine. Small or large, they consist of booth after booth hawking various wines, red, white, varietal blends, local specialties, etc. Intermixed are, of course, plenty of booths also selling delicious foodstuffs to help support your wine tasting.

Unfortunately, this year’s Fête fell on a complicated weekend, and we were in Ven-Danger of missing it. Again.

We were both sick, and exhausted from just moving into a new (temporary, furnished) apartment with a small and uncomfortable bed, leaving us both cranky. But on top of that, this was also the very same weekend as Paris’ Oktoberfest, yet another event that has been on my list since last year. And on top of that, it all happened to fall on the same weekend as a family birthday, resulting in an obligatory family gathering. We were down to just one day we could use to attend one event. Obviously we chose wine. Frenchman doesn’t like beer (I know. I know) and we’re so close to Munich we can practically smell the real Oktoberfest, so it just made more sense to pick the event that France is sure to do well. I’d rather go to the real Oktoberfest anyway! (Germany, get ready – l’Américaine is coming for you next September!)

Sunday, the very last day of the event, we made it up to Montmartre.

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Parents in Paris!

Remember that time I got my parents to fly all the way across the ocean to see me get married and visit Paris? I know that was 3 weeks ago and it seems like I forgot but I swear I didn’t.

It was a crazy, full, busy week but it was so much fun!

Let me set the scene: my mother, a big European traveler in her day and, honestly, the reason my brain has been full of travel dreams since I was about 10 years old, hadn’t been to France in over 40 years. My father, on the other hand, had a brand-spanking new passport in hand, having never flown so far before in his life. Things were about to get very exciting.

The day we arrived was, unfortunately, a miserable deluge of pouring rain, immediately squashing my plans of taking my parents on a quick “walk around the neighborhood” to surprise them with -SUDDENLY, EIFFEL TOWER- around the corner. The cherry on top was the fact that a complete transportation strike was planned for that very day, landing us with a slightly delayed flight and a miserable, extra-long and crowded ride on the Roissy Bus from the airport. It worked out fine, though, because that afternoon was the  worst we experienced all week and it was all up from there!

For their first full day in Paris, I decided to take my parents on a whistle-stop tour of the heart of the city. Starting from the Arc de Triomphe, we walked all the way down the Champs Elysées to Place de la Concorde, through the Tuileries gardens and to the Louvre. We even had time (and energy) to go a bit further, and made it to Palais Royal and les passages. It was a bit of a Greatest Hits Tour, and it was the perfect start to their week. For my Dad, who had never imagined he would go somewhere like Paris, it was so much fun to see him seeing these monuments that he had only seen in movies. And for my mom, it was a beautiful, emotional moment when we came up out of the metro and took our first look at the Arc de Triomphe, over 4 decades since the last time she saw it.

For the remainder of their week, we went all over Paris covering the city up, down, and sideways. I had a full itinerary planned with all the major sites, lots of sunny walks, and – of course – tons of good food. Over the next few days we covered:

  • Seeing the Eiffel Tower at night, lit up and sparkling
  • Going up the Tour Eiffel (even if just to the middle level)
  • Notre Dame
  • Sainte Chapelle
  • Steak frites (seriously, this was a planned event)
  • Jardin du Luxembourg
  • Bateau Mouche
  • Sacre Cœur and Montmartre
  • Invalides (Napoleon’s Tomb)
  • the Marais and Place des Vosges
  • Crêpes, pastries, plenty of cafe-sitting, and wine

And of course, squeezed in between all of that was an incredible meal at Frenchparents’ house and…. my wedding!

ParentsParis_ArcdeTriompheParentsParis_Eiffel Tower seineJardin des Tuileries statuesParentsParis_Galerie VivienneParentsParis_Eiffel Tower lightsParis Choux CafeParentsParis_Bateau MoucheParentsParis_Sacre CoeurParentsParis_Invalides Napoleon

It was such a privilege to be there and help them have this amazing trip. I’m so proud that I was the reason they came to Paris to have this experience. I miss them already!

ParentsParis_Eiffel Tower c

Packed & Ready

I’m heading back to Paris!

I can finally say I’m going back – to Paris, to my apartment, to my cat, and of course to the fiancé I left behind for nearly 3 months to wallow through the winter without me.

For the entire time I’ve been home, there has been some measure of uncertainty. Not knowing when I could go back, not knowing if my paperwork was going through, not being able to tell anyone at work I was planning on going back… It has been exhausting. When the pieces finally all fell into place and I not only had solid plans but could share them? That was a big day. And once I was able to tell my team and give my notice a huge weight was lifted and I finally felt like I could enjoy this a little. Not that quitting my job didn’t come with its own set of stressors, but I wasn’t keeping secrets anymore and that was a relief.

Speaking of paperwork, I can also finally celebrate all of it going through! We got our marriage stuff in order… I got my visa application in order and received it… all that’s left is to get on a plane and go to the city hall!

Oh the stories I could tell of the highs and lows of international paperwork. And, believe me, I will certainly tell it all in good time. I just couldn’t bring myself to write about “How To Apply for a Visa” or “How to get married in France” in confident detail until I had the papers securely in hand myself. I was pretty sure that as soon as I wrote about it, something else would go haywire and the whole post would be a lie. So stay tuned for tales of visas and consulates and Paris Mairies in the near future.

After all, I’m soon to be unemployed in Paris. It seems only right that I should spend my days writing my life story in a cafe somewhere!

But for now, my flight leaves tonight. I’ve got my parents packed and ready to come with me, and I’m getting married on Monday! It has been a wild ride these past few months, full of lots of unknowns and confusion (and joys and excitement), and I’m happy to say it’s all coming to a happy close this very week.

A bientôt, Paris!

Paris Seine Eiffel Tower

I’m still here, I swear.

I’ve been slacking.

I was supposed to write about Christmas in Paris, but Christmas came and went and I didn’t get around to it. Then I thought, hey fine – I’ll write about Christmas and New Year’s Eve together, that’ll be great. Then New Year’s came and went and I didn’t get around to it.

I’d like to say that I’ve just been so busy with my fabulous life and that I was just “living it to the fullest” so much and that’s why. But that’s not exactly true.

True fact: I have been busy. True fact: it is not with fabulous life-living. It’s with paperwork and planning and flights home and trying to find enough sweaters to not freeze to death in this arctic New England weather we’re so nicely experiencing just as soon as I got back here.

So here’s your quick recap of the past couple of weeks, in photo/summary format. Settle in – this is a long one.

Christmas.

Christmas in Paris seems like a fairytale. To be fair, it is totally gorgeous. Though the weather was oddly warm (same at home, it seems) it was still festive. Frenchman and I were headed to his brother’s house just north of Paris, but not before having a little mini-Christmas of our own.

Christmas Eiffel Tower MarketChristmas Paris TreeChristmas Buche de Noel

In France, Christmas Eve is the bigger event compared to Christmas Day in the U.S. We got to Saint-Germain-en-Laye after hardly eating all day in preparation for the huge meal to come. This was a good decision.

There were snacks, and drinks, and then a first appetizer, and then a second appetizer, and then the huge main meal, and more drinks, and bread and more bread, and cheese. And, of course, dessert! We each got our own individual tiny Bûche de Noël. It was adorable (and delicious). No pictures, sadly, but use your imagination (similar to the baby bûche above, which I was able to hold off from eating long enough to snap a photo).

It was all super delicious, and we left decidedly full to spend the night at a hotel around the corner as his parents’ new house nearby was too paint-fumed to support a night’s sleep.

We made our way back to Christmas Central the next morning to find the most enormous pile of presents I have ever seen. Frenchman’s nephews are 3 and 1 respectively, and couldn’t even begin to appreciate the number of gifts they had to open. While they could easily have kept half the gifts for next year and no one would have noticed, I must admit that the kid in me was SO EXCITED to see a literal mountain of brightly wrapped presents spilling out from under the tree.

We spent the day snacking on tasty brioche for breakfast, watching little kids unwrap their toys, and then eating even more food in another multi-course (though less formal) meal capped off with yet another gorgeous dessert – this time a citrusy ice cream cake.

The Lull.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is always weird. Half the population is on vacation, the half that is working is …”working” and all you really want to do is hang out in sweats and eat leftover holiday goodies.

Married in France

Frenchman and I used this time to go to our local Mairie (city hall) to start getting our paperwork in order to get married in France. 🙂 That’s a whole post (or seven) in and of itself, so I won’t go into the paperwork stuff just yet. Just suffice it to say it’s insanely complicated, difficult, and overwhelming and stay tuned for the full write-up sometime soon.

New Year’s.

Shortly before New Year’s Eve, as many of you probably heard, they announced that Paris’ celebration would be subdued. Not cancelled, but toned down to show respect and solemnity after the attacks in November. Obviously understandable, but I won’t deny I was disappointed as “New Year’s in Paris!” was a thing I had been excited about since the first mention of moving.

We planned ourselves a nice dinner at home rather than trying to go out anywhere, with all the bells and whistles (fancy foie gras-stuffed tiny chickens, bacon-wrapped date appetizers, fancy desserts from the boulangerie across the street – the whole shebang) including not one, but two bottles of champagne. Go big or go home, right?

 

After dinner, we packed up and took ourselves down to the Champs Elysees to check out the festivities. As part of the adjusted plans for the evening, instead of fireworks they would be showing a short video splashed across the Arc de Triomphe and displayed on large screens all down the street to avoid a large crowd jammed at one end. We were pleased to go through two separate police security checks as we made our way through, checking coats and purses and everything. Security was obviously high, but so were spirits as even the police joked with people that they’d only let them through if they shared their champagne.

New Years Champs ElyseesNew Years Arc de TriompheNew Years Paris 2016It was a fun night, albeit relatively short. And as we walked home from the 8th arrondissement to the 16th to the 7th and finally the 15th where we live, it was really amazing to see Paris through such a festive lens and know that that’s where I live.

New Years Eve Paris

The rest.

We started off the New Year with a brunch of mimosas and praline brioche. Not a bad start, I think.

New Years Paris Brunch

From there, we started hustling to get all sorts of documentation in order for our marriage dossier for the Mairie before I had to head home. Burying the lede, I know, but the fact is I had to head home to Boston the 10th of January. Remote work was coming to an end and my passport was turning into a pumpkin.

But I’ll wrap this up before this gets much longer, and tell you about some good food and good friends that kicked off the New Year another time.