TU S1.2; TS 4: Sip & Cycle (Part 1) – Paris

Join me as we learn about & drink different wines. We will cycle thru Paris on a picnic-style bike with Cyclo Cafe and Tanisha Townsend of Girl Meets Glass! Part 2 will be up next week! Get your wine glass and come on ūüôā

Girl Meets Glass:
Bloghttp://www.girlmeetsglass.com
Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/GirlMeetsGlass/
Twitter — @girlmeetsglass
Tumblrhttp://girlmeetsglass.tumblr.com

Cyclo-Cafe:
Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/OntheCycloCafe/
Websitehttp://www.cyclo-cafe.fr

En Vrac (includes location & hours of operation):
Websitehttp://www.vinenvrac.fr/en/

S1.2, TS1 Parisian Catacombs

Hi my travelistas!¬† On today’s travelsode of Travel Unplugged, we are going 60 feet under street level to explore Les Catacombes (the ossuary where the bones of 6 million Parisians are housed).¬† Located at 1 avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy in the 14th Arrondissement.¬† They only allow 200 visitors at a time.¬† Due to the length of the tour (up to 1 hour) and the fact that you walk down 130 steps (and up 80 steps), it’s not recommended for those with limited mobility.

The Catacombs are so freaking awesome!¬† The bones are stacked up 5 feet high¬†in very cool arrangement of femurs, tibias and skulls.¬† I kept waiting for Sammy Terry to pop out and say, “Bonjour Madamoiselle, I’ve been waiting for you!”¬† Then I’d have screamed, died on site and had my bones mixed in with the others.

As I say in the video, what I can’t get with is that the bones are mixed up all willy nilly.¬† You know they didn’t try to figure out who is Celine and who is Francois.¬† And it would be my luck that if I was one of the dead, my bones would be mixed up with my arch nemesis (we’ll name her Becky since it starts with a “b”) and my ex (who we will call Leroix so it sounds French).¬† You know who ain’t trying to have¬†their femur mixed with Becky’s tibia and Leroix’s skull?¬† Me.¬† I have gone to Glory and need time to rest.¬† And I know they ain’t walking the golden streets of heaven…because if they are, then I’d need to go speak with Peter about their quality control process and review their paperwork to ensure that error is corrected and they are given tickets to go down South ūüôā¬† Ha!

If you visit Paris, be sure to check out The Catacombs in all of its macabre splendor!

Hours:
Daily from 10am to 8pm (last admission at 7pm), except Mondays and some holidays.

More information & to Purchase Tickets:

http://www.catacombes.paris.fr/

An Expensive-Ass Letter

Hi all and Happy 2016!!! ¬†I told myself that THIS year, I was going to blog on a regular basis. Now, I lie to myself so take it for what it’s worth. Anyways, I have moved to the beautiful City of Lights and figured I’d start sharing my experience with you…my peeps…my e-family.

So, being offered a job transfer to Paris was so. freaking. exciting! Then, I was like, “wait, I don’t speak French.” ¬†But immediately was like, “Self, it doesn’t matter. ¬†You can pick it up!” LIES!

I took an immersion class in Washington, DC for 7 weeks before I moved…and know how to say my name and count. ¬†I can’t tell you how helpful that has been.

French Person:  Excuse me, would you like something to eat?

Me: ¬†Je m’appelle Nikki. ¬†Neuf.

French Person:  Um, hi Nikki.  What do you mean by the number 9?

Me:  *blank stare* Deux

French Person:  Wanders off and takes away sharp objects

It is getting better though.  I am now taking French lessons twice per week and while I do get frustrated at the fast pace, it helps to push me forward into learning the language so I can assimilate faster.

Which brings me to sharing my experience at the post office (or La Poste) as it’s called here. ¬†My sorority sister requested I send a letter to her child’s kindergarten class that basically says that I saw the gingerbread man here in Paris. ¬†I write and address the letter, figure out what I need to say at the post office to buy the correct number of stamps, and head forth to bask in a moment of triumph.

Sigh. ¬†As I get to the counter, I show my letter and ask how much I needed to pay in postage to mail the letter to the United States. ¬†I hear something that sounded like “set” which I took to mean 7 (which is “sept” in French). ¬†So, I buy 7 stamps and place ALL 7 ON THE LETTER.

Did you ever read the Harry Potter books? ¬†If not, there is a passage about Molly, Harry’s best friend’s mom, mailing him a letter thru the “Muggle Post” (non-magical letter mailing, which is basically what I am doing). ¬†Since they normally use owls to deliver letters, his wizarding family didn’t know how much postage to put on the letter. ¬†It looked like this…

il_fullxfull.254382229

What my letter looked like.

 

Which is exactly how my letter looked to travel from Paris to Indiana. ¬†When I put all 7 stamps on the letter, the address was just barely visible. ¬†I give it to the postman, he looks at me and was like, “Why are there so many stamps on this?” ¬†I was like, “Sir? ¬†What? ¬†You told me 7 stamps.” ¬†He looked at me and muttered something in French that sounded suspiciously like “bless her heart” which we all know in southern US means that person is “special.”

After removing 6 stamps, I was finally able to get it mailed. ¬†No telling where the gingerbread man is now…:)

 

 

Trouble Finding Your Passion? Start a Bucket List!

What are you passionate about? ¬†Not sure? ¬†Create a “Bucket List” that includes things you’ve always wanted to try or do. ¬†You never know‚Ķone of those items may be what you are destined to do with your life!

Too many people wait until a certain time in their lives before they start pursuing their dreams. ¬†Why do they wait? ¬†There are various reasons: ¬†“I want to wait until I get married”; “I want to wait until my kids are grown”; “I will do it when I retire”, etc. ¬†Sometimes these “reasons” are really excuses. ¬†START LIVING NOW! ¬†Don’t wait until a certain event or milestone happens. ¬†We never know when our last day on Earth will be. ¬†Why not make the most of the time you have?

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. ¬†Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Single? ¬†Do not wait until you find that special someone. ¬†Fill your life up with things YOU want to do in the meantime. ¬†That means you’ll bring some fabulous stories to your next relationship.

Have children? ¬†Don’t wait until your kids are grown. ¬†Inspire them to want to live a fulfilling life as they observe you pursuing your dreams and taking chances.

Don’t wait until you retire! ¬†In this economy, who knows when that will be! ¬†Start your bucket list now so you can have an awesome retirement filled with things you love to do and places you want to visit.

The great thing about a bucket list is that it helps you to visualize what you want to do and take action when opportunities arise.  Groupon and Living Social have deals everyday!  This is how I fulfilled my dreams of skydiving, race car driving…and in January, a trip to Iceland!  Best part?  I am able to achieve my goals on a shoestring budget!

I am a long ways off from retirement and still waiting to meet Mr. Right. ¬†But, you know what? ¬†I’m happy! ¬†Everything isn’t perfect. ¬†There are times when I feel like I’ve failed at life‚Ķespecially when others make insensitive comments. ¬†However, instead of punching them in the throat taking it personal, I force myself to remember all of the things I’ve accomplished from my bucket list. ¬†I didn’t get here overnight. ¬†In fact, it wasn’t until my recent trip to Bali (another bucket list item) where I learned how to meditate properly and use yoga to control my mood. ¬†And you know what? ¬†My imperfect life is pretty fulfilling as I’m living, learning, dreaming and exploring!

So‚Ķjoin me in making an awesome bucket list! ¬†I promise that you will love the feeling of trying new things. ¬†Some you may enjoy‚Ķothers you may not. ¬†That’s the beauty of bucket lists. ¬†It’s like shopping for dreams ūüôā

Need inspiration? ¬†I’m addicted to the free iPad app “iWish” which provides inspiration in the form of photos, quotes & maps as well as allowing you to create your bucket list electronically. ¬†I also recommend Bucket List Living Magazine. ¬†Follow the directions below and use the coupon code “3free” for a free 3 month subscription. ¬†Let’s start living the dream!

What’s been on my bucket list?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

How to Use the Bucket List Living Magazine Coupon

  1. Go to ‚ÄúApp Store Downloads on iTunes‚ÄĚ.¬† Search for Bucket List Living Magazine.
  2. Download the free app by tapping the FREE button.
  3. Tap the INSTALL APP button.  You will then enter your Apple ID Password and click OK.
  4. When the magazine app is finished installing tap the OPEN button.
  5. Permission to send new issues and push notifications from Bucket List Living Magazine is requested.  Choose OK.
  6. Tap the SUBSCRIBE button and then the CURRENT SUBSCRIBERS button.
  7. Enter the coupon code into the account number box and tap the CONTINUE button.  After you enter the code you will receive a notification that you have subscribed successfully.  Tap CLOSE. (The current issue should begin downloading in the background.)
  8. A VIEW button will appear below the current issue, tap it to begin enjoying the magazine.
  9. You will have access to any issue published during the trial subscription period.  At the end of the trial period you will retain access to any issue downloaded during the trial period but will be required to pay for any subsequent issues.

Decadent Paris: Cooking Class

20130203-143315.jpgIt has become a sort of tradition to take a cooking class when¬†I travel abroad.¬† Part of it is because I like to eat…the other part is a way for me to bring a little of that culture back home with me.¬†¬†During a¬†previous¬†trip to Paris, I took¬† a baking class (which focused on croissants, pain au chocolat, pain au raisin, foccaccia, etc.).¬† This time, I decided to take a desserts class.¬† My absolute favorite choice for cooking classes in Paris is Cook’n with Class.¬† The¬†chefs are nice & knowledgable and the hands on instruction is so fun!¬† You can book either directly thru their website or via Viator.¬† They also have a Facebook page which features delicious season recipes from time to time!

During the Paris Desserts & Pastry class, we learned how to make creme br√Ľl√©e, chocolate molten lava cake, golden bars, lemon tartes¬†and Grand Marnier¬†souffle. Delish!!!

The chefs!

The chefs!

The ingredients

The ingredients

Crust for the lemon tartes.

Crust for the lemon tartes.

Lemon tarte filling...and yes, I did order the mold :)

Lemon tarte filling…and yes, I did order the mold ūüôā

Making molten chocolate lava cake!

Making molten chocolate lava cake!

Mold & ingredients for Golden Bars

Mold & ingredients for Golden Bars

Carmelizing the sugar on the creme brulee.

Carmelizing the sugar on the creme brulee.

Prepping oranges for the Grand Marnier souflee.

Prepping oranges for the Grand Marnier souflee.

Fresh out of the oven...lemon tartes with red currants on top!

Fresh out of the oven…lemon tartes with red currants on top!

One Day in Paris

December 29, 2011

What would you do if you had only 1 day to experience the enchanting city of Paris?

Bonjour!¬† Aaron,¬†Joyce, Stefanie, Luciana (“The Crew”) and I¬†decide to take a day trip to Paris from London.¬† While this is my third trip to this intoxicating city, it’s the first visit for my co-travellers.¬† The great thing about this city is that you can always find something new to discover!¬† We ended up fitting about¬†3 days worth of sightseeing into 11 hours.¬† It was glorious!¬† If you plan to do a day trip, be sure to get lots of sleep and wear comfortable shoes because it will wear you out!¬† I’ve covered Paris in 3 other blog posts so most of the info in this post will be high-level (with links throughout to posts with more¬†detail).¬†

*¬†Just a quick note that this post is going to get risqu√© by the end since I will be recapping my visit to the Museum of Erotica…you’ve been warned ūüôā

Our schedule for the day:

7:01 Depart London St.-Pancras, set our watch 1 hour ahead
10:17 Arrive in Paris, take Metro to Notre-Dame
10:30 Explore Notre-Dame
11:00 Lunch at a French cafe in Ile de la Cite
12:00 Walking tour of the Latin Quarter, Tuileries Gardens, the Louvre, Ile de la Cite/Ile St. Louis, Saint-Chappelle, Deportation Memorial, Pont Neuf, La Comedie Francaise, Opera Garnier, Palais Royale, Place de La Concorde, Palais de Justice, Pantheon, Champs-Elysees. 
3:00¬†Visit Montmartre area (Sacre-Coeur, Moulin Rouge¬†and Musee¬†de l’erotisme)
6:00 Visit the Eiffel Tower
7:00 Dinner at a French cafe.  Be back at Gare du Nord (train station) by 8:25pm.
9:13 Depart Paris for London (arrive in London at 10:36)

The Crew & I are up at 4:30am to get dressed and take the Tube¬†to St. Pancras¬†station to¬†catch the 7:01am train to Paris.¬† OMG, it’s early y’all.¬† Eurostar¬†requires you to check-in at least 30 minutes prior to the train leaving (you also need to account for time to go through security…so budget¬†about 45 minutes or so).¬† After we check-in, we¬†get breakfast and hang out until it’s time to leave.

 

Once we board the train, it’s about 2 1/2 hour ride¬†to Paris.¬† We decide to use this time to take a nap.

   

We arrive in Paris around 10:30am (Paris is 1 hour ahead of London) and¬†get on the Paris Metro.¬† Quick tip:¬† I purchased our Metro tickets in advance thru Rail Europe (at the same time as our train tickets) and this saved us so much time.¬† The lines for tickets¬†had about a 20 minute wait.¬† I just bought day passes so we wouldn’t have to worry about purchasing travel tickets each time we rode the Metro.¬† It definitely helped us spend more time sightseeing than worrying about logistics.

We hop on the Metro and head towards the Notre Dame stop.  As we exit the train station, we come upon Palais de Justice.

  

Our first stop was the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral (also known as Our Lady of Paris).¬† This magnificent cathedral took 185 years to complete (1160 – 1345).¬† The builders used the popular Gothic style and it’s noted for its flying buttresses.¬† It has been thru many alterations since completion in order to keep it current with modern conveniences.¬†

In 1793, during the French Revolution, the cathedral was rededicated to the Cult of Reason, and then to the Cult of the Supreme Being. During this time, many of the treasures of the cathedral were either destroyed or plundered. The statues of biblical kings of Judah (erroneously thought to be kings of France) were beheaded. Many of the heads were found during a 1977 excavation nearby and are on display at the Mus√©e de Cluny. For a time, Lady Liberty replaced the Virgin Mary on several altars. The cathedral’s great bells managed to avoid being melted down. The cathedral came to be used as a warehouse for the storage of food (source Wikipedia).¬† I find the French Revolution fascinating (I mean, seriously, how out of touch did the royals have to be?).¬† You can read my comical take on the origins of the French Revolution in my Versailles recap titled E True Versailles Story:¬† Royals Gone Wild.

The exterior of the church is absolutely breathtaking.  You can see the kings of Judah as well as the Virgin Mary holding Baby Jesus.

   

The inside of the cathedral was beautiful and serene.¬† All cathedrals have the same layout (in the form of a cross).¬† It’s a very overwhelming and calming experience.

       

After we leave Notre Dame, we walk to Ile St. Louis (“St. Louis island) and stop for lunch at a little cafe called Le Flore en L’Ile¬†(where they serve the famous Berthillon¬†ice cream).¬† Ile St. Louis is the high-rent residential area of Paris (Johnny Depp has an apartment here!).

 

We walk past the back of the Notre-Dame and go to the Deportation Memorial.¬† I’ve been to this area twice before and never noticed this garden nestled among the trees.¬† The Memorial de la Deportation¬†is a memorial to the 200,000 French victims of Nazi concentration camps.¬†

Then we cross the Seine…

  

…and see the “love locks”.¬† Couples who marry place locks along the bridge and throw the key¬†into the river¬†to signify that their love cannot be broken. ¬†No idea what the folks do who have combination locks (maybe those signify¬†pre-nups).¬†

 

We walk along the Seine towards the Louvre and pass thru the Latin Quarter.  I cover my tour of the Louvre pretty thoroughly in my Paris Ooh La La post (it also includes a recap of the Paris Ghost Tour which was so entertaining).

  

While Joyce & Stefanie toured the Louvre; Aaron, Ciana¬†and I took the Metro to Montmartre to visit Sacre-Coeur.¬†¬†“The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, commonly known as Sacr√©-CŇďur Basilica, is a Roman Catholic church and minor basilica.¬† ¬†A popular landmark, the basilica is located at the summit of the butte Montmartre, the highest point in the city. Sacr√©-CŇďur is a double monument, political and cultural, both a national penance for the supposed excesses of the Second Empire and socialist Paris Commune of 1871 crowning its most rebellious neighborhood, and an embodiment of conservative moral order, publicly dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was an increasingly popular vision of a loving and sympathetic Christ.¬† The Sacr√©-CŇďur Basilica was designed by Paul Abadie. Construction began in 1875 and was finished in 1914. It was consecrated after the end of World War I in 1919.” (source, Wikipedia)

Climbing up the steps to reach Sacre-Coeur is a workout in and of itself.  My glutes were on fire!  But the view is phenomenal and well worth it.

  

While the view is fantastic, let me warn you that the pickpockets are out in full effect.¬† Due to this area being extremely crowded, thieves are always on the lookout for something free.¬† Sigh.¬† I covered my own “attempted” pickpocket experience in¬† The Wonderful World of Paris¬†post.¬† You already know I had a “I wish a mutha-*&!@ would pickpocket me today!” attitude.¬† Ha!

After we leave Sacre-Coeur, we decided to stroll through the artsy Montmartre neighborhood.  An interesting fun fact to know is that many artists had studios or worked around the community of Montmartre (such as Salvador Dalí, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh).

We pass by a sweet shop and couldn’t resist going in.¬† I love how happy sugar-filled shops are ūüôā

 

As we were chatting and walking down¬†Boulevard de Clichy,¬†I started to notice something.¬† Every store seemed to have a theme.¬† Now, if you have tender sensibilities, are under the age of 18 or are my Mom, stop reading, k?¬† If you want to read but don’t want to admit to your inner freak, then go on and close the door.¬† I’ll wait.

  

Wait…what?¬† Does the sign on that¬†store say “Pussy’s”?¬† I don’t see any cats.¬† Is that a pimp leaning up against the wall?¬† OMG, this is the French “Hustle & Flow”.¬† Now I’ve got that “It’s Hard Out Here for¬†a Pimp” song in my head and I’m gonna be saying ‘mane’ like Terrence Howard. FRACK.¬† I HATE THAT SONG!¬†

How did we stumble into the freak nasty section of Paris?¬† Why didn’t I see this in Rick Steves?¬† What startled me was that you just kinda came up on it and it was like, “BAM…take off your drawers/panties.”¬† If you have a heavy sexual appetite, this smorgasbord of sex is for you.¬† When I was in Amsterdam, I expected freak fest (and let’s be honest…you know you would’ve been all over this too, k?).¬†

We had about 30 minutes to kill until we met back up with Joyce & Stefanie so we end up going to the Musee¬†de l’erotisme¬†(Museum of Erotica) which was about¬†10 Euro.¬†¬†Let me just say that you are not ready for this place.¬† Seriously.¬† I thought it would be some sort of campy “museum” but this turned out to be a full-on 7 level museum dedicated to all forms of erotica.¬† And, it took us¬†much longer than 30 minutes to go through the entire¬†place.¬† I am not ashamed to admit I learned something!¬† For those of you “innocents” out there, this is the time for you to put on some pearls so you can get to clutching.

I was not ready.¬† And, y’all aren’t either.¬† Which is why I’m taking you on the tour with me (yes, I was *that girl* who whipped out the camera and giggled or said “shut the front door!” while taking pictures for y’all.¬† You’re welcome).

So let’s get started.¬† First, let me say that this turned into my birthday present for my cousin, Aaron (since we were in Paris on his special day).¬† Second, even he was shocked which is saying something.¬† Third — Mom, are you still reading this?¬† Aaron made me go in.¬† I was fine with visiting the cathedrals ūüôā

This is the first thing I see when we enter the museum…

Um, what kind of chair is this?  And, is it for sale?

Then it was on to these gems:

   

Each floor as a “theme”.¬† They start you off tame…then it gets freakier¬†each level you ascend.¬† The first floor was dedicated to the “religious” and cultural aspects of sex across the world.¬† The big dildo you see above?¬† That’s “prayer wood”.¬† HAHAHAHAHAHA.¬† Wooo, stop it.¬† I cannot see taking that to Zion Hill Baptist Church and shouting out “CALLING ALL PRAYER WARRIORS!”¬†

Have you been looking for some new sandals for the summer?  Well here you go.

Oh yes, you are seeing right.  Dildo sandals.  I believe they may be multi-purpose.

Then we get to the Japanese proverbs.¬† This stuff is golden.¬† I heard a guy saying “this is deep, man.” (you can click on the photos to enlarge).

Then there was the “pillow book”which is basically a how-to manual to subjugate women *eye roll*…

 

Next is the Chinese version of the “Kama Sutra”.

We then head to the next level which is all about brothels. 

 

You can see photos of some of the “working girls” and the ledger of how much pimps/madams made.

Below is an excerpt of a book which basically said that prostitutes became lesbians out of boredom or because they hated how they were treated by men.

Keep in mind that there are a lot of photos but I only took a handful on each floor…didn’t want to seem like a sex-crazed pervert.¬† We then head upstairs.¬† Each landing has some sort of erotic art like…

As we come to the top of the stairs, I notice a large flat screen tv and couches with some lighted scented candles.¬† The tv wasn’t showing anything at that time but I assumed it was a video about the history of erotica.¬†¬†

Wrong.

So wrong.

Ciana, Aaron and I had been walking¬†around and looking at all the statues, pictures, etc.¬† I got caught up looking at something (I can’t even remember…I was constantly lagging behind due to taking pictures).¬† As I walk back towards the stairs, I see the video has started and Ciana & Aaron are slack-jawed.¬† Apparently, I had just missed¬†what I assumed was the informational video¬†but a new one is starting.¬† There is a crowd with¬†people sitting on the couch and standing around.¬†

I turn to look at the tv screen and see it’s a silent movie…and it’s porn.¬† That’s right, silent porn.¬† With subtitles…black and white…and looks to have been filmed in the 1920s.¬† The film was set in a monastery with a “monk” making dinner for 2 “nuns”.¬† And, I swear that the subtitle said “the sisters decided to have each other for “hors d’oeuvres”.¬† Wait…what?¬† Next thing I know, the “sisters” have ripped off each others “habits” and are going to town on each other!¬† WHAT?¬† The subtitles keep popping up because apparently you need to be told the continuing storyline in case you got lost.¬† The “monk” was peeping thru a window and then another “monk” comes up behind him, snatches his pants down and starts having sex with him.¬† I was done.¬† I couldn’t watch anymore…in a room full of folks…with a storyline set in church.¬† I’m trying to see Jesus some day and I don’t have time to explain my visit to the Museum of Erotica to Peter.¬† I already have way too much to account for.¬† Which now includes this visit because you know I didn’t leave.¬†

We turned quickly and went up to the next level…which was “porn thru the years”.¬† There were 3 smaller tv’s on each table set in a triangle pattern.¬† This apparently is for more intimate viewing.¬† But you are still at a table with other folks.¬† Really?¬† They had porn from every culture thru a span of 50 or 60 years.¬† Even interviews with adult film stars.¬† As we are walking up to the 6th level, we see photos of different “genres” of porn…like vampire porn.¬† *hangs head*

The 6th floor is dedicated to what I’m gonna call “cartoon” porn.¬† I’m sure it has some sort of slick name but it’s¬†freaky stuff in cartoon fashion.¬† Like they needed to draw up Smurfette getting it on with Papa Smurf.¬† There’s something for everybody here.

The last floor focused on “doll” porn.¬† Poor Barbie.¬† She’s a ho.

 

By the time we reached Bimbo Barbie, I was exhausted.  Who knew that looking at all that erotica would wear you out?  We ended up taking the elevator down to the first floor and saw this magnificent display at the exit.

Afterwards, I felt like I needed to smoke a cigarette.  Woooo!  Thanks, Paris.

We leave the museum and head towards Moulin Rouge

Then take the Metro back to the Louvre to meet up with Joyce & Stef.

We all walk from the Louvre thru the Tuleries Garden and see that there is a huge ferris wheel!

 

By this point, our feet are killing us but we still have one more stop before dinner…and that is to the Eiffel Tower!

Then finally, it was time to rest and eat.  We ended up eating at a cafe across the street from the train station.  Which was a good thing because we almost missed our train!  Overall, it was a great day trip.  We were able to see a lot.  I would definitely recommend staying for more than a day because Paris at night is fabulous!  Looking for things to do in Paris?  Check out my post The Top 10 Things to do in Paris.  Au revoir!

London & Paris (New Years 2011/2012)

Joyce & Stefanie in front of Westminster Abbey (London)Afternoon Tea at the National Gallery Cafe (London)Afternoon Tea at the National Gallery Cafe (London)The London EyeBig Ben & Parliament (London)Protest signs at the NYD parade (London)
Protest signs at the NYD parade (London)View from the Thames River (London)Shakespeare's Globe (London)Westminster Abbey (London)Nikki posing in front of Westminster Abbey (London)New Year's Day parade (London)
New Year's Day parade (London)Nelson Mandela (London)Stef @ The SavoyTicket to see "Legally Blonde The Musical"London BridgeThe Crown Jewels
Trevor Nelson's NYE partyCiana & Byron @ Trevor Nelson's NYE PartyJoyce & Austin @ Trevor Nelson's NYE PartyNikki & Daniel at Trevor Nelson's NYE PartyCiana & Trevor Nelson @ his NYE partyJoyce & Nikki @ Trevor Nelson's NYE Party

Hanging out in London & Paris over New Years 2011…come join us!

Top 10 Things to do in Paris

Each time I visit a city, I try to come up with a list of the ‚Äútop things to do‚ÄĚ by reading reviews on Trip Advisor and¬†Rick Steves¬†to plan an unforgettable trip.¬† The list will contract or expand based upon the amount of time I have.¬† I always like to mix city/historical tours with off the beaten path activities.¬† Below is a list my top 10 things to do when visiting the lovely city of Paris.

10.          Take in a Moulin Rouge cabaret show.

The Moulin Rouge cabaret¬†was built in 1889 by Joseph Oller and is close to Montmartre (a must see during a walking tour) in the Paris district of Pigalle on Boulevard de Clichy in the 18th arrondissement (it is marked by the red windmill on its roof). ¬†¬†‚ÄúThe Moulin Rouge is best known as the spiritual birthplace of the modern form of the can-can dance. Originally introduced as a seductive dance by the courtesans who operated from the site, the can-can dance revue evolved into a form of entertainment of its own and led to the introduction of cabarets across Europe.‚ÄĚ (Wikipedia). ¬†Today the Moulin Rouge is a tourist destination, offering musical dance entertainment for visitors from around the world. ¬†Be sure to book your tickets¬†in advance as the shows tend to sell out.¬† I also recommend you watch the 1941 ‚ÄúMoulin Rouge‚ÄĚ film starring Josephine Baker as Princess Tam-Tam before you go.

9.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Shop til you drop.¬† Paris is the place for fashion.¬† I find myself people-watching just to figure out how I should update my wardrobe.¬† You can either book a shopping tour¬†(including a Discount Couture tour) or strike out on your own and visit boutiques, street markets or local department stores (Galeries Lafayette, Printemps, Bon Marche).¬†¬† I picked up¬†an¬†invaluable etiquette tip from my Rick Steve‚Äôs ‚ÄúParis‚ÄĚ guidebook:

  • Before you enter a Parisian store, remember the following points:
  • In small stores, always greet the clerk by saying “Bonjour” plus their title (Madame, Mademoiselle, or Monsieur) and say “Au revoir, Madame/Mademoiselle/Monsieur” when leaving.
  • The customer is not always right. In fact, figure the clerk is doing you a favor by waiting on you.
  • Except for in department stores, it’s not normal for the customer to handle clothing. Ask first.
  • Forget returns (and don’t count on exchanges).
  • Saturday afternoons are busiest.
  • Observe French shoppers. Then imitate.
  • Don’t feel obliged to buy. The expression for “window-shopping” in French is faire du l√®che-vitrines (literally, “window-licking”).

8.            Get a scoop (or more) from a Berthillion ice cream shop. 

Berthillion Ice Cream shop (photo courtesy of David Monniaux)

Berthillon is a French manufacturer and retailer of luxury ice cream and sorbet.¬†¬†I first became addicted to their ice cream during the summer of 2010.¬† Berthillon’s fame results, in part, from its use of natural ingredients, with no chemical preservatives or artificial sweeteners. ¬†Its ice creams are made from only milk, sugar, cream and eggs‚Ķjust like homemade ice cream. ¬†¬†Their flavors are derived from only natural sources (cocoa, vanilla bean, fruit, etc.). Fifteen flavors are produced everyday by the chefs depending of the season, the availability at the market and customer demand. In total, about sixty different flavors are produced throughout the year.¬† Try to get there early to have a greater selection of flavors.¬† Personally, I love the raspberry and chocolate flavors!¬† Berthillion‚Äôs has 3 locations on Ile St. Louis (31 rue St. Louis-en-l‚ÄôIle, another across the street, and one more around the corner on rue Bellay).¬† It‚Äôs a perfect stop after visiting the Notre-Dame!

7.            Relax at a café.

There are tons of cafes in Paris and you would be remiss if you didn’t stop in one for a café au lait, croissant or crepe.  I usually like to pop in during the afternoon for a light treat since most restaurants in Paris do not open for dinner until at least 7pm.  Cafes are a perfect place to take a break after a busy day of sightseeing.

6.            Explore the Catacombs. 

The catacombs are an underground ossuary¬†in Paris. Located south of the former city gate (the “Barri√®re¬†d’Enfer” at today’s Place Denfert-Rochereau), the ossuary holds the remains of about 6 million people and fills a renovated section of caverns and tunnels that are the remains of Paris’ stone mines. Opened in the late 18th century, the underground cemetery became a tourist attraction on a small scale from the early 19th century, and has been open to the public on a regular basis from 1867.¬† The Catacombs entry is in the western pavilion of Paris’s former Barri√®re¬†d’Enfer¬†city gate. After descending a narrow spiral stone stairwell of 19 meters to the darkness and silence broken only by the gurgling of a hidden aqueduct channelling local sources away from the area, and after passing through a long (about 1.5 km) and twisting hallway of mortared¬†stone, visitors find themselves before a sculpture that existed from a time before this part of the mines became an ossuary, a model of France’s Port-Mahon fortress created by a former Quarry Inspector. Soon after, they would find themselves before a stone portal, the ossuary entry, with the inscription Arr√™te, c’est¬†ici¬†l’empire de la Mort (‘Stop, this is the empire of Death’).

Beyond begin the halls and caverns of walls of carefully arranged bones. Some of the arrangements are almost artistic in nature, such as a heart-shaped outline in one wall formed with skulls embedded in surrounding tibias; another is a round room whose central pillar is also a carefully created ‘keg’ bone arrangement. Along the way one would find other ‘monuments’ created in the years before catacomb renovations, such as a source-gathering fountain baptised “La Samaritaine” because of later-added engravings. There are also rusty gates blocking passages leading to other ‘unvisitable’ parts of the catacombs ‚Äď many of these are either un-renovated or were too un-navigable for regular tours. (Wikipedia).¬† I first heard about the catacombs when I did the Paris Ghost Tour in September 2011.¬† I found out there is an entire culture down there!¬† The ‚Äúcataphiles‚ÄĚ (people who are basically obsessed with the catacombs and very familiar with the layout) have parties, film festivals, concerts, etc.¬† However, note that you should never try to visit the catacombs without a proper escort/guide‚Ķbecause you will get lost & never¬†find your way¬†out.

5.            Cruise the Seine River.

The Seine is a 482 mile-long river and an important commercial waterway within the Paris Basin in the north of France. It rises at Saint-Seine near Dijon in northeastern France in the Langres plateau, flowing through Paris and into the English Channel at Le Havre (and Honfleur on the left bank).  I suggest taking one of the excursion boats (i.e. Bateaux Mouches) that offer sightseeing tours of the Rive Droite and Rive Gauche within the city of Paris.  I suggest the Champagne Tasting Seine Tour or Night Bike Tour.  It’s a great way to relax and enjoy the city.

 

4.            Take a French cooking class.

There are only so many cathedrals & museums I can visit before I’m ready to do something different.  I love to cook and try out new techniques and recipes.  To that end, I registered for a baking class with Cook’n with Class.  We learned (through hands-on instruction) the proper techniques for making croissants, pain au chocolat, focaccia, pain au raisen, etc.  It was awesome and the chefs are absolutely delightful!  They offer several different classes:  Baking, Classic French Desserts (crème brulee, molten chocolate cake, souflee a Grand Marnier), Macaron (3 different flavors), Morning Market (where you will go to a local market and learn how to select fresh produce & ingredients) and many others.

3.            Visit the Louvre.

I highly suggest you take a couple of hours and tour the Louvre.  It’s massive so you will need to strategize and prioritize what you want to see (i.e. Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa, Egyptian collection, etc.).  If museums aren’t your thing, you still should walk or bike past it to see the magnificent exterior.  It’s absolutely breathtaking at night!

2.            Visit the Eiffel Tower.

Love, love, LOVE the Eiffel Tower.¬† Built in 1889, it has become both a global icon of France and one of the most recognizable structures in the world. The tower is the tallest building in Paris and the most-visited paid monument in the world; millions of people ascend it every year. Named after its designer, engineer Gustave Eiffel, the tower was built as the entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair.¬† Three hundred workers joined together 18,038 pieces of puddled iron (a very pure form of structural iron), using two and a half million rivets, in a structural design by Maurice Koechlin. ¬†The tower was much criticized by the public when it was built, with many calling it an eyesore. Newspapers of the day were filled with angry letters from the arts community of Paris (Wikipedia).¬† Which I find interesting as it is now considered one of the most beautiful structures built.¬† I love to sit and stare at it.¬† Especially when it lights up at night.¬† That 5 minute ‚Äúsparkle‚ÄĚ is spectacular!¬† I highly suggest you buy your tickets online to decrease your wait in line.¬† The Eiffel Tower’s online reservation system, which lets you skip the ticket line, is up and running (www.toureiffel.fr). At the tower, attendants scan your ticket (which you’ve printed at home or at the hotel) and put you on the first available elevator. Even with a reservation, however, you still have to wait in line with the masses to get from the second level to the summit.

1.                   Walking Tours. Take a bike ride thru the city.

The top thing to do in Paris?  Take a walking or bike tour (or both)!  It’s a great way to see the city and learn the history.

  • For walking tours, I suggest Sight Seekers Delight¬†(tours of the city, Montmartre, & Jewish Tour of Marais for a cost of 35-40 euros),¬†Discover Walks¬†(which offer free 90 minute tours of Notre Dame, the Left Bank, Marais, and Montmartre by native Parisian guides) and the Paris Ghost¬†Tour¬†(a neat tour thru the Jewish Quarter focusing on the myths & legends of Parisian ghosts & hauntings…suspend belief and roll¬†with it), and¬†Paris Chocolate & Pastry Food Tour (which is a walking tour of Paris’ finest chocolate & pastry shops…tastings are included).
  • For bike tours, I suggest Fat Tire Bike Tours.¬† I‚Äôve taken 3 of their tours in Paris.¬† They have offices in London, Barcelona and Berlin as well.¬† All of their tours are phenomenal.¬† It‚Äôs an American company and employs expats to conduct the bike tours in English.¬† They are a fun way to see a lot of the city in a 4 hour span of time.¬† They also do a bike tour of Versailles (which is awesome and lasts 8.5 hours).

What to Wear When Travelling Abroad

Coco1One of the most popular questions asked when getting ready for a trip overseas is ‚ÄúWhat should I wear?‚Ä̬† 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 ‚Äúloose‚ÄĚ, 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôt have one?¬† Buy one when you get there‚Ķit‚Äôs 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‚Äôt see that because I don‚Äôt think that‚Äôs 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‚Äôt say that I have seen a huge difference in what they wear vs. the U.S. (with the exception of the ‚Äúdon‚Äôts‚ÄĚ listed below).¬† A popular look during the summer of 2011 was shorts with tights & Chuck Taylors (*shudders*).¬† Don‚Äôt 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‚Ķonly to realize that everybody (and I do mean everybody) was wearing one.¬† First and foremost, you want to be warm.¬† Don‚Äôt 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 ūüôā¬† 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‚Äôt 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‚Äôt 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‚Ķnot like you are getting ready to workout. If you just don‚Äôt 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‚Ķjust no.¬† It‚Äôs not cute.¬† Tell your mother to leave it at home with the rest of the 80’s attire.¬† I don‚Äôt 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‚Äôs 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.

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 “C√īte 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!!