What to Wear When Travelling Abroad

Coco1One of the most popular questions asked when getting ready for a trip overseas is “What should I wear?”  I always suggest researching what the locals are wearing (with a few exceptions notated below).  Not solely for aesthetic reasons, but also for safety.  Most pickpockets target tourists.  Looking like you belong goes a long way.  Here are a few suggestions to help you look like a local on your travels abroad.

1.       Dress for the Country/Culture.  Each country has its own style.  Some countries are more lax (the U.S., England, Ireland, Scotland) while others take their fashion seriously (France & Italy).  With the exceptions that I have noted below, you can usually get away with a nice pair of jeans/black pants/skirt and plain shirts/sweaters.  Don’t wear anything outrageous or loud (leave the catsuit at home).

  • Middle East/Egypt/Morocco (& other Islamic countries) = First and foremost, you want to respect the culture of the country you are visiting.  Which means no Daisy Dukes while visiting the Pyramids of Giza in Cairo (and, yes, I have seen it).  Make sure you dress conservatively (covering most of your skin).  Yeah, it may be hot, but you can find breathable and dry-wick fabrics pretty easily.  Trust me; you do not want to stand out in a conservative country.  Women from western countries are viewed as being “loose”, which can invite sexual harassment from the local male population.  By keeping your goodies covered up, you take the attention off of you (and your valuables).  In Morocco, most women (and quite a few men) wear djellabas (a hooded robe).  These can be either heavy or light weight in fabric (according to season).  I didn’t wear one when I was there, but it is definitely an option which will reduce the amount of stares you get.  I tend to buy breathable tunics from Old Navy (most are 3/4 length sleeves), long flowing skirts, loose capris and convertible cargo pants.
  • France/Italy = These 2 fabulous countries are homes to the most famous fashion houses around.  This means they take their fashion seriously.  While the Italians are a bit more accepting, the French will turn their nose up if you walk past them wearing any of the items listed below in #3.
  • You can never go wrong with basic black.  It’s easy to coordinate and you can interchange with stylish accessories (like a scarf or costume jewelry).
  • The French love black, navy and brown.  I suggest using those as your base colors.  You will notice that most of the French will pair up their dark wardrobe with a colorful scarf.  Don’t have one?  Buy one when you get there…it’s a souvenir & fashion accessory all in one.
  • The Italians love color and you can get away with a lot more.  Most of all, it is attitude.
  • Quick everyday tip = Get your clothes tailored.  I noticed that many people look better in clothes that are altered to fit their shape.  I picked this tip up while visiting Paris.  Everybody there looks like a million bucks (or euros) and it really is because their clothes fit impeccably.
  • Spain = The Spanish love color & flowing maxi dresses/skirts.  I also noticed some ladies wearing cowboy boots with shorts but we will pretend like I didn’t see that because I don’t think that’s a good look personally (I like to call that seasonal dyslexia).
  • England/Ireland/Scotland/Holland/Czech Republic/Switzerland/Scandinavia = Pretty much anything goes.  I can’t say that I have seen a huge difference in what they wear vs. the U.S. (with the exception of the “don’ts” listed below).  A popular look during the summer of 2011 was shorts with tights & Chuck Taylors (*shudders*).  Don’t emulate that.  Hopefully that was a 1 season only look.LBD

2.      Dress for the Season.  Be sure to check the weather before you go.  Weather Underground is a good resource.  I have typically found that you will need to dress in layers no matter when you travel abroad.  A light jacket, colorful scarves, stylish cardigans/sweater coats are a must for spring, summer & fall.  Going in the winter?  Bring along a warm coat, some snazzy boots & a cute hat/scarf/glove combo.   I had left my puffer coat at home during a winter trip to Milan…only to realize that everybody (and I do mean everybody) was wearing one.  First and foremost, you want to be warm.  Don’t take an unlined peacoat when visiting Finland in the dead of winter.  Your health trumps fashion.  Plus, you will stand out as not knowing how to dress properly for cold weather 🙂  ExOfficio is now offering a snazzy sweater jacket that doubles as a travel pillow when folded.  This jacket is so cozy & warm!  I recently wore it during a winter trip and fell in love with it.  The jacket packs very easily, is super soft AND rain-resistant as well as keeping you warm & toasty.  This is now my go-to jacket both here and abroad!

coco3

3.       DO NOT WEAR…

  • Baseball caps!  If you want to protect your head & face from the harsh sun, opt for a stylish wide-brimmed hat (during the summer) or cloche/fedora (during the winter). Baseball caps scream tourist. Don’t bring your favorite sporting team to France unless you are actually on the team, k?
  • Baseball/Football Jerseys, High School/College T-shirts, etc.  Do I really even to explain why wearing a baseball or football jersey is a no-no? Again, you don’t want to stand out as a tourist for pickpockets. T-shirts are fine if they are plain or have a cool graphic. Bottom line, you want to look nice…not like you are getting ready to workout. If you just don’t think you can survive without wearing sporting apparel, buy a soccer/rugby jersey. You can fit in and it will be a conversation starter.
  • Fanny-packs!  Seriously…just no.  It’s not cute.  Tell your mother to leave it at home with the rest of the 80’s attire.  I don’t even know how this item became popular.  Never carry your money and valuables in a waist contraption that is easily seen.  You are begging a pickpocket to take a knife, cut the strap and steal it from you.  Use a money belt instead.  It’s similar to your beloved fanny-pack; it just goes under your shirt/waist of your pants instead so it will not be seen.  This protects your valuables from curious onlookers.
  • Expensive jewelry/bags!  A pickpocket will tackle you to steal your Rolex or Louis Vuitton.  Leave your valuables at home.
  • White sneakers???  I have actually seen quite a few locals wearing sneakers (though not usually white) around London & Paris.  My preference is to bring a pair of running shoes (as I like to workout during my trips abroad…even running races like the Paris-Versailles 10K) as well as a comfortable & stylish walking shoe (i.e. Hush Puppies, Mephisto, Clarks) that can transition into an evening shoe. I highly recommend walking shoes that have a rubber sole to minimize the impact of walking on cobblestones.  I love the Hush Puppies Sonnet flat which you can buy at Macy’s for almost half of what it retails for at other locations as well as the Makena Ballerina shoe.  Bottom line is to wear a shoe that you will be comfortable walking in for hours at a time.

Emma

4.       Must Haves.

  • Light jacket/cardigan/wrap = If you plan to wear tanks or sleeveless tops during the summer, be sure to bring something to cover your shoulders when visiting a place of worship.  You will not be allowed to enter with shoulders (and sometimes legs) exposed.  I bought Magellan’s Sun Protection Wrap for my recent trip to Morocco and fell in love.  So soft and it provides the necessary protection (both arms and head) when you enter places of worship.  I even wear it around at home.
  • Secure purse/money belt = I have been using a PacSafe purse (stylish & secure) to carry around my valuables, guidebook, umbrella & bottled water for a couple of years now and it is awesome.  Highly recommend!  The shoulder straps are reinforced with steel so it cannot be cut and the zippers lock into place.  It will take a pickpocket a few minutes to figure out how to gain access to your valuables.
  • Comfortable walking shoes = As I stated above, cobblestones can be harsh on your feet.  A stylish rubber-soled shoe will save your tootsies!
  • Dark colored pants & skirt = Use these as your base pieces.  Dark colors camouflage stains & are great to pair with funky accessories.

MM

5.     Handy resources.  Here are a few websites that focus on travel-related items:  While ExOfficio & Magellans offer stylish options, you can certainly find great travel clothing from cheaper stores (i.e. Old Navy, Target, etc.).

While these tips may not prevent you from being identified as a tourist, it will keep your bag lighter and you safer.  Hope it helps!  Safe travels.  Do you have any travel fashion tips?  If so, please comment as I’m always looking for a fresh perspective!

Also check out my posts on Nikki’s Favorite Things: Fashion Accessories and Essentials for Stress-Free Travel.

E True Versailles Story: Royals Gone Wild

I decided to tour Versailles.  Since I had such a great time on the Night Bike Tour in Paris, I booked the Versailles tour through Fat Tire Bike Tours as well.  The tour lasts approximately 8.5 hours so it’s a full day of riding & sightseeing.

While in Paris, we ride our bikes from the bike shop to the train station (which is about 10 minutes away), then put the bikes on the train for a 20 minute ride to Versailles.  Once we arrive, we pedal over to the farmer’s market to buy food for our picnic that afternoon.

The market is fantastic!  You can really go broke (because a tray of raspberries and other fruit cost me 17 euros) but the freshness of the food is unbelievable.  I ended up buying some fruit, tomatoes, green beans, rotisserie chicken and water.  I passed on buying a bottle of wine as I remembered the drunk pedaling from before.  So, after we load up the bikes with our purchases, we bike over to the grounds of the Palace of Versailles (or as it is called in French, Château de Versailles).

Apparently, they try to keep the château & grounds true to history so the horses and sheep are there for decoration which has to be a pretty plush job for them.  Our fabulous tour guides are Sadie and Matt.

Okay…I hope I remember all the history correctly.  If there are inaccuracies, then let me know.  Versailles used to be the hunting grounds of King Louis XIII and was made the capital of France by King Louis XIV (“KL14”) from 1682 until the French Revolution which started in 1789.  Three kings lived in Versailles (KL14 who built the Palace of Versailles, KL15 who enjoyed it, and KL16 who paid for it…with his head).

The Palace is lavish…in fact, it’s downright gaudy.  You know how some folks just don’t know that less is more?  Well, that was the Louis’.  In the end, all that flash came back to bite them in the butt.

This place has a lot of gold…like Mr. T had been their architect and interior designer.  They just covered everything with flowers and paintings.  It was like they had to have it all.  Even if it didn’t quite blend in with the décor.  They’d just see something, buy it, put it in a room and name it a certain “salon”.

Apparently, the Dauphin & Dauphine (king and queen) had their own set of suites on opposite sides of the palace.  And, considering all the mistresses that KL14 & 15 had, it’s no surprise.

The dining room was called the “Hall of Mirrors” and is 250 feet long, with 17 arched windows and 17 matching arched mirrors that look at the garden.  The literature states that it “reflects an age when beautiful people loved to look at themselves.”  I saw the portraits of a lot of folks back then and um…let’s just say that beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder.  Maybe it’s just me but I think I’ve only seen 1 portrait of someone who I thought was attractive.  Otherwise, they just all looked plain.  And, a couple of the women look like men dressed in drag.  I mean, it was a painting so they could’ve done some photoshopping and prettied them up with a few strokes of the paintbrush.  One woman was painted with a light mustache.  If that was me, the painter would’ve have been shown the door.  Make me thinner & prettier…not fatter and more masculine.

Sorry, I digressed.  Guess I got caught up in all the beauty.  Back to the dining room.  It was huge.  But KL14 (or as he named himself, the “Sun King”) felt like he needed more space to entertain.  So, he made all the people move out of the village of Trianon so he could build a SECOND DINING ROOM!  Apparently, pretty people need a lot of space to eat.  KL14 went all out.  Nothing was too good…he even had the marble brought in from Italy.  KL14 was spending the money from France’s treasury on furnishing his home like he was at the strip club making it rain.  One figure I heard was that he spent HALF of what was in the treasury.  So, he kicked the folks out the area and named the dining hall after the village in honor of them.  I’m sure they appreciated that sentiment as they were living under a bridge.

If anything, KL14 needed to be building a shower and bathtub because it is rumored that he only bathed two or three times in his life.  I was reading The Raucous Royals (because I love gossip & scandal even if it’s hundreds of years old), and it stated that “In King Louis XIV’s day, people thought a good, thick, grimy layer of filth would keep you healthy and strong.  They believed water spread diseases by penetrating the pores of the skin and then infecting the bloodstream.  Most people didn’t bathe more than once a year. The wealthy did change their linen throughout the day because they believed that the linen wicked away sweat and dirt, but they still stunk.”  And that made no logical sense.  Come on, France.  To combat the smells, the men and ladies in KL14’s court would douse themselves with perfumes and powders.  So, imagine being back in that day and having to smell Jean-Claude’s funk mixed with Cody Wild Musk for Men.  Ewwww.

To be fair, the book stated that KL14 was so clean that he was almost fussy about it. “He often bathed in a big Turkish bath.  When not in his bath, he rubbed spirits or alcohol on his skin (perfume gave him headaches), which acted as a disinfectant. And, as if that were not enough, he changed his undies three times a day!”  The book also said that KL14 towered over his subjects at an amazing 6’10”. Unfortunately, he was only 5’4” when naked.  “To compensate for his short stature, he wore a twelve-inch-high wig and six-inch red heels. But this was one look that no one could copy. King Louis XIV decreed that only the king could wear red heels.”  Only the king wears Prada, y’all.

Now, this book also said that Queen Elizabeth 1 would bleach her teeth with dog urine so keep that in mind when judging the veracity of their information.  Regardless of bathing or not, whatever he did it must have paid off because KL14 lived to the ripe old age of seventy-seven and was king for seventy-two years, longer than any other French monarch in history.

So, KL14 builds up a lavish palace and dies then KL15 assumes the throne (after a regency period since he was only 5 when his great-granddaddy went to the gilded gates).  KL15 was known as the playboy extraordinaire.  He claims to have had 5000 mistresses.  Okay, Wilt Chamberlain.  One mistress, Marie Anne de Maillynesle, put together a business plan for her future when her looks started to fade.  She figured out that KL15 liked his women more than ruling so when she felt like she was getting too old, instead of having him kick her to the curb…she became a pimp and procured women for him.  However, she wanted more power…and since he didn’t really want to govern anything outside the bedroom, he let A Pimp Named Marie Anne run the country.  She would just start wars (like the Seven Years War) so she could resolve them and have even more power.  The most famous of his mistresses are Madame du Pompadour and Madame du Barry.  Of course, with all the sleeping around he was doing, you know they all had cooties.  How are you going to be scared of water but not STDs?  Come on, France.

We then pedal over to the Hamlet of The Domaine de Marie Antoinette (aka The Hamlet).  In order to understand the significance of The Hamlet, I’ll give you a bit of background about the events leading up to the French Revolution.  As I stated above, KL14 & 15 were living the high life by spending money on buildings, wars, clothes and women.

Then, KL16 comes along.  He was set to marry Marie-Antoinette after the Seven Years War as a way to solidify peace between France & Austria.  The story goes that KL16 was a nerdy kid who, at 15 (the age he married Marie-Antoinette), preferred to collect bugs & locks than look at women.  Then, there was the supposedly beautiful Marie-Antoinette (“MA”).  Sigh.  I saw the painting.  We’ll give her a pass.  So, “beautiful” MA marries KL16 at the age of 14.  Her primary goal was to get knocked up with some heirs.  But, KL16 wanted to go out and collect fireflies and pick locks.  And, MA, having read the precursor to the book, “He’s Just Not That Into You” was upset.  Which many women can sympathize with.  It’s one thing to be rejected by a fine man.  Quite another to be rejected by the French Urkel.  MA tries to seduce KL16 to no avail.  People start looking at her all suspiciously because she hasn’t gotten knocked up yet.  So, she did what most women do when they are depressed.  No, not eat chocolate and binge drink (or maybe that’s just me).  She went shopping.  And spent MASSIVE amounts of money on all the latest fashions.  Where did that money come from?  The treasury into which folks paid their taxes.

Finally, 7 years later, MA gets pregnant.  Maybe she put on some kinky ladybug lingerie and rubbed her legs together like a spider to entice KL16.  Who knows?  She ended up having 4 kids.  After having her kids, she decided that she wanted to know what it was like to live like a peasant…so she had The Hamlet built.

This “peasant village” was basically a big dollhouse & playground.  She had sheep that she would have dyed a different color each day depending on her mood.  She then would pretend to milk a cow into a porcelain bowl.  Her peasant dresses were tailored.  You can only imagine from the pictures how much this little playground cost the taxpayers.  And, apparently, when the villagers saw her making a mockery of their lives…well, let’s just say that karma is a ______.

MA had her own place with a moat around it and required KL16 to send a written request before coming to visit.  Legend is that she had a Swedish lover that she would meet at the Temple of Love she had built for their rendezvous (which was not at all discreet…Temple of Love, Marie?  Seriously?).  With 80 acres of land, they could slip off and not be seen by anybody.

After the French monarchy were on MTV’s “Cribs”, the bourgeoisie class (which were the middle class and merchants) were like, “WTF?”  They were tired of seeing their hard-earned money go to waste.  People were starving because taxes had risen dramatically to pay for such a lavish lifestyle in Versailles.  So, they ended up signing the “Tennis Court Treaty” where they wrote a constitution and basically decided to revolt.  Which, I don’t know why KL16 didn’t see this coming.  The French had just helped out the US for the American Revolutionary War…put down the bugs, buddy.  You know the Americans were like, “Listen, Pierre, you gots to get out now.  You think I’m gonna let George tell me what to do?  I’m not calling him “king”.  Plus, I think he’s got a mental illness and I don’t have time for the drama.  Britain can kick rocks!!! U-S-A-U-S-A-U-S-A.  What?  Is he your master now?  Can he beat you up?  You need to take notes and tell Louis that France don’t have time for bug collectin’ and prancing around in stockings and high heels while folks can’t buy bread!  Revolt, man!”  While KL16 was collecting butterflies, the French were collecting guns.

So, the French Revolution starts in 1789 when KL16 finally gets a clue that something is going on and sends his army into Paris to put the smack down.  The citizens think the soldiers are about to attack and get all Matrix on them and storm the battalion to set free the political prisoners…of which there were only 5; and get the gun powder which was stored there.  Then, the fishmonger women (you know, the women who work at the docks) started marching on Versailles and surrounded the Palace.  Finally, KL16 & MA surrendered under the condition that they would live under house arrest at the Louvre.

They lived at the Louvre for a few years but when they saw the guillotine had been built and folks were getting beheaded…well, they came up with an escape plan.  I think it’s now pretty obvious that KL16 is no mastermind.  MA passed out her tailored haute couture peasant clothes and they snuck out of the Louvre in the dead of night and probably would’ve made it to freedom had KL16 not refused to take a nondescript peasant carriage.  He said he’d only ride in the royal carriage.  Sigh.  That kinda defeats the purpose of discretion.  Once they convince him to take a Kia carriage, they end up being stopped by a patrolman outside the city.  KL16’s face is on all currency so it didn’t take long for the patrolman to figure out KL16 (aka “The French MacGyver”) was trying to escape.  Somehow, he just wasn’t getting the concept of subterfuge.  So, of course they get caught.  Then, they both end up getting beheaded.  KL16 first…and MA almost a year later after she had been humiliated.  Folks hated MA by this point and would just take any opportunity to ridicule her.

In the end, the whole family (except for 1 daughter) ended up dying.  It’s pretty sad.

But, the grounds are beautiful!  After riding around and looking at the gardens, we had a picnic on the grounds behind the palace.

Finally, I walked through this hall where a guy in period costume was playing chess against at least 12 people…and he beat everybody sitting there.  Most people stare at the board for a while before making a move.  This guy didn’t spend more than 30 seconds thinking of each move…would take whatever piece that was yours and move on to the next player.

Overall, Versailles is gorgeous.  The Palace itself is okay (if you are into that type of thing).  I thought the grounds, gardens and the Domaine de Marie-Antoinette were the most interesting.

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Race Series: How I Survived the Paris-Versailles 16K Race!

Running an international race was on my bucket list this year so I jumped at the chance of participating in the Paris-Versailles 16K (which is 10 miles)!  I had run a half marathon earlier this year so I thought it would be a piece of cake.  Wrong.  I was required to have my doctor sign a medical waiver (clue #1).  Since I love Paris and Versailles, I thought this would be a great idea and it would give me a chance to see some beautiful scenery.  I had read the info on the race website and a question was asked about the terrain.  The question was “I’ve never ran the Paris-Versailles, is the race difficult?”  The reply, “The race, in spite of the reputation of the “Côte des gardes”, is still easier than a half marathon. Be careful on the last climb to Viroflay (before the feeding station of km 13) who is redoubtable, as well as the slight incline of the Avenue de Paris in Versailles, which can seem endless.”  (clue #2)  That’s it.  Keep that response in mind for later, k?

I get up, head to Starbucks for yogurt and then take the train to the Eiffel Tower where the race is to start.  Um, why were there several funky folks on the train?  Dude, you haven’t even ran the race yet?  You want to be smelling like booty funk when you wake up?  Hose yourself off and get some deodorant.  The thought going thru my mind was, “what the hell is it going to smell like after the race?” 

So, we arrive at the Eiffel Tower and it is packed.  The race had sold out about a month earlier.
    

View of people walking over the Seine towards the starting line.

I met up with a couple of French colleagues in the starting area (which is packed).  Then, as we are lining up, my colleague says, “Hey, be careful out there because people have died running this race.”  Wait, WHAT?  People have died?  Why wasn’t that in the literature???  He tells me that people always overdo it because they aren’t ready for the huge hill between kilometers 6 and 8.  They don’t pace themselves appropriately.  Then, he says that he saw 2 people die a couple of years ago.  WHAT THE HELL?  WHY AM I JUST NOW HEARING ABOUT THIS MESS?  I AM NOT READY TO DIE.  I HAVEN’T SAID GOOD-BYE!  So, I did the best I could…sent a message on Facebook telling everybody that it’s been a good life & requested they keep me lifted in up prayer.  Ha!

The race has a rolling start but unlike half & full marathons, you aren’t grouped by pace.  They just let a certain amount of people start running every 2 minutes.  Finally, our group is released to start the race.  A couple of things I notice from the start.  First, there is no concept of personal space.  People just run all up on you so you are constantly covered in other people’s sweat.  It’s gross.  And you cannot avoid it.  Second, Port-O-Potties are a suggestion, not a requirement.  While they have some at the hydration stations, most people just stopped running and urinated on the side of the road.  Men AND WOMEN.  I don’t need to see Jean-Claude whip out his junk and I certainly don’t need to see Chanel pull her pants down and squat.  Really?  On the side of the road???  I can’t take it.

Once I’m over that, I’m able to continue focusing on my run.  Then, I see some guys running in chicken costumes.  In the heat…for 10 miles.  I’m sure that seemed like a neat concept in theory.  By the 3km marker, the chicken head had come off and was tossed to the side…by the 6km marker, the entire suit was tossed.

  

I’m just running along and then I come to the 6km marker and see what I’m gonna call the “Hill to Jesus”.  It went straight up.  Seriously?  What the hell?  I just started looking around for a train or bus stop because I just knew that I the hill would kill me and I would have to ask Jesus to help me out.  As I start my Jesus quest, I’m thinking that I have 20 Euro and could either find a taxi or bribe a kid to let me hop on his scooter.  The 2 km Jesus run seemed like it was 26 miles.  I honestly didn’t think I would make it.  I cursed myself out the entire time I was running (while I listened to Marvin Sapp’s “Never Would of Made it” to give me some encouragement.  Ha!).  I finally made it, gave thanks to Jesus and prayed that it was all downhill after that.  It wasn’t.  However, 11-13km was pretty good.  While I survived the hill, not everybody did.  I saw 3 people being rushed to the hospital via ambulance.  It’s weird passing ambulances that are stationed at every kilometer.  I also ran past several people at the medics tent getting oxygen and other medical care.  You know I was like, “uh…maybe I should just take a quick break and have them check my pressure?”  But, I kept it going.

Then there was another hill.  WTF?!?!?!?  I saw the medic scooter and thought, “I’m saved!”but it flew right on past to help out someone else.  They were probably faking.  I finally come to the last hydration station that has sugar cubes (that’s new for me), oranges, water and Powerade…and they are playing Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”…aw yeah!  That gets me hyped and I get a little burst of energy…

And, I finally cross the finish line 2 hours after I started the race.  One more goal achieved!!