Tag Archives: embarrassing pop culture references

London, Again

So, I went back to London. I just loved it so very much I couldn’t help myself! Plus, my complete and total obsession with the movie Love Actually has planted enduring dreams of London at Christmastime in my mind, so I jumped at the chance to go the weekend after Thanksgiving, right as November was poised to become December–my very favorite month of the year.

I’m sure no one’s surprised to hear that I went to the Kensington Whole Foods…three times in two days. The very best part was our Friday night dinner, which consisted of American-style Thanksgiving food! This in itself completely made my weekend. It was admittedly a little sad to be away from home on Thanksgiving for the first time, even if I’m away from home in Paris. But nothing else could have possibly been quite as warm and comforting to me that day as mashed sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce from Whole Foods.

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I also enjoyed an abundance of vegetables, which the French do not believe in, over the course of the weekend. Aren’t they beeauuutiful?

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Don’t worry, though, I also took the opportunity to enjoy some real English food. At last, fish and chips!

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I didn’t get any fish and chips in August because I was absolutely reeling from the horrible dollar to pound/euro conversion and the high costs of everything in Europe and was terrified my bank account wouldn’t last throughout the semester. In fact, I barely remember eating at all the first time I went to London…and know for a fact that we had beer for dinner at least once. Insanity! Don’t worry Mom and Dad, you’ll be happy to hear I’ve gotten over my shock at the conversion rates and now spend freely! (God help me when I’m a real person and have to learn about scary things like budgets and responsible spending.)

I actually got to do several things I didn’t get to the first time around, once of which was visiting Borough Market. Even though it was crowded, it completely lived up to my expectations. On my next trip to London, I’ll be back.

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So, now that I’ve gotten the crucial thing–food and everywhere they sell it–out of the way, let’s move on to culture and sight-seeing, shall we?

I insisted upon returning to some of my favorite spots. We wandered through Hyde Park, where I loved seeing all the swans gathered in a pond near Kensington Palace.

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I of course returned to Westminster to visit my favorite building in all of Europe. At least in terms of exteriors. Can I say that? I think I can say that. The Duomo might be a close second. Oh, I mean, the Louvre. That’s pretty impressive. Okay, I can’t pick a favorite. But I really, really, love, love this one. A lot. I mean, it’s been there, just being beautiful, for hundreds of years! Incredible. Incredible.

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I also went to the Tate Modern, but I don’t have any pictures because I accidentally checked my camera with my bag when I walked in. But it was awesome!

Moving right along to my very favorite part of the trip (aside from Kensington Whole Foods, obviously): anything and everything to do with Christmastime!

Starting with the Christmas lights on and around Regent Street…

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And ending, most importantly, with my Christmas dream to end all Christmas dreams: Harrods decked out in all its festive holiday glory. It was a verifiable wonderland.

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Maybe the funniest part of being back in London was noticing not how the city has changed since my trip there in August (not much aside from the Christmas decorations), but rather how I’ve changed. Walks that felt incredibly long on my first trip seemed to pass in an instant this time around. And, shockingly, I was not appreciate of but rather annoyed by our many attentive waiters–somewhere along the way, against all odds, I seem to have adjusted to the Parisian standard of service. I remember landing in London, fresh off the plane from the U.S., and delighting in how European London was. On my recent trip, I was surprised by how very American it seemed. Everything from the way people walked around with Starbucks cups to the presence of Urban Outfitters and Whole Foods to the way parents coddled (and, dare I say, seemed to enjoy the presence of) their children to the many pedestrians on the streets not dressed to the nines (how dare they!) served to remind me of all the things I’ve come to accept as normal in Paris that are not part of my life at home. Throughout the semester, I’ve maintained that both Europe and America do so many things right and so many things wrong. I keep threatening to build an island in the middle of the Atlantic that combines all the things I love best about Europe and all the things I love best about America…but maybe, just maybe, London could be that island?

I just wish they’d appreciate the importance of dressing well to go to the grocery store.

Oh God, they’ve got me.

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on the homefront

So, I’ve been traveling like crazy and therefore have lots and lots to share but little time to share it! Don’t worry, though, I’m here to promise you and myself that I’ll be fully caught up by the time I leave for this weekend’s trip.

In the midst of all this traveling, I did manage to spend a weekend in Paris! Well, at least in France. There were some memorable day trips involved.

The first weekend in November, my friends Eric and Jimmy came to Paris. I love when people come to visit because it gives me an excuse to do all the touristy things I love and also helps me to check some of my other must-do tourist stops off the list.

For starters, I went to the top of Notre Dame! Happily, there were lots of gargoyles, and the view was gorgeous–one of my favorites so far.

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Unhappily, no, I didn’t see Esmerelda or the Hunchback. Disappointing, Notre Dame, disappointing.

We also went through the cathedral itself just in time to witness some intensely Catholic people in the midst of an intensely Catholic ritual.

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Creepy.

No, what was actually happening was the revelation of the alleged crown of thorns–yes, the crown, the one Jesus wore when he was crucified. Well, with all due respect, I somehow don’t think the crown was made of spotless sterling silver…sooo…that’s awkward.

I also finally went to Cafe de Flore, one of the most well-known cafes in all of Paris and former gathering place of lots of famous artsy tortured writers.

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The boys were inspired by the spirit of Hemingway and ordered whiskey.

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I was inspired by the lowest possible price and the color pink and ordered a Kir. Don’t lie, Ernest, I’m sure you did the same thing at some point.

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We ended up doing something of a walking tour of Paris one night, and because it is Paris, I of course saw or noticed things I’ve never seen or noticed before.

For instance, I finally did what I have dubbed the “death dart” through the traffic circle surrounding the Arc de Triomphe to get beneath the thing. There’s no delegated crossing place, so basically you just have to say a prayer, run out into the giant no-lanes-no-rules circle while dozens of cars speed by and swerve around you, and desperately hope for best. It’s exhilarating, and I never want to do it again.

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Oh wait, except once we got to the middle, admired the giant structure, and paid our respects to the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, we had to go back. Oops. Forgot about that. At this point just moving in was looking like a viable option. (I’m happy to report that I both made and survived the return trip, though, and am not writing this from my perch by the tomb.)

That night, I also got to see the last Eiffel Tower light show of the night…which, little did I know, is extra cool because they turn all the lights off except for the ones that are sparkling…so it’s like Eiffel Tower: The Dark Knight. Or something. I don’t know. It was dark and cool and edgy. I liked it.

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Other weekend activities included following the Rose Line through the city…some of us were more excited than others to finally find it.

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But we had lots of fun tracking it from Montparnasse…

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through Luxembourg Gardens…

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and all the way to Saint-Sulpice.

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The famous church is where the best part of the journey awaited us: this sign.

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HAHAHA! Little do these church people know, Tom Hanks is always right. Thus, there is a Rose Line. And it is here. (See: The DaVinci Code if you don’t know what I’m talking about.)

The Tom Hanks fun continued that weekend with an extra special French day trip: to Normandy!

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(See: Saving Private Ryan if you don’t know what I’m talking about. But please, please tell me you know what I’m talking about.)

My inner American History dork came out in full force on this excursion. However, my knowledge was sadly sup-par, and I spent a significant portion of the day BBM-ing my dad, who actually knows what he’s talking about and could give me the real play-by-play of how D-Day (and WWII for that matter) unfolded. Thanks, Dad!

Let me tell you something funny about visiting the beaches of Normandy, though. The French don’t want you to do it. They hate Americans being patriotic, I guess. Our trip involved a train to Caen (that left from a different train station than SNCF told us, thanks for that), a shorter train ride to a small town outside Caen, and then a bus ride to Omaha Beach. Where, at 3:30 in the afternoon, our bus driver informed us (literally as the doors were closing) that no more buses were coming that day, so we were stranded in small-town Normandy. Uh, great. He then sped off, leaving a small crowd of nine or ten very confused Americans in his wake. HEY BUDDY, remember that time we saved your scrawny French derriere in WWII We were unimpressed. Very unimpressed. And let me just say, I imagine if that if the French had pulled off an incredibly courageous and daring wartime feat comparable to the Allied Forces landing on the beaches of Normandy and, you know, fighting off the Nazis, there would be government-sponsored trains running every five minutes to the site of said feat. And everything would be forever preserved in solid gold. And encrusted in diamonds.

I really do love, you France. All in good fun.

All American patriotism aside, though, I really do think it should be a little bit easier to do what we were trying to do. After all, it is a pretty important site in, you know, WORLD HISTORY. Anyway. It was worth it.

The beaches were beautiful in an incredibly solemn way. Maybe it was just knowing what happened there, but it was almost haunting.

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(Didn’t stop us from snapping a few tourist pictures. American and proud, y’all.)

We also visited the D-Day museum by the beach, which was small but cool. I think my favorite part of the day, though, was visiting the British cemetery. (Because, oh wow, shocking, the rest of the day had been so easy! But the American one was closed.) Still, even though it wasn’t the final resting place for fellow American citizens, it was incredibly moving and really very upsetting to stand among the graves. Fathers, sons, brothers, husbands, young and old, my age, my sister’s age, my dad’s age…it was really incredibly difficult to fathom the losses so many people faced that day.

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Normandy was definitely on my abroad bucket list, so I’m really, really glad I got to make the trip. It was worth every little bit of difficulty the French put me through to do it. (Kidding, kidding. Sort of.)

Another recent day trip was to Rouen! Which any fellow art history dorks might recognize as the home of the Rouen Cathedral, which Monet famously painted multiple times in a series that experimented with the changing qualities of light. Others might know the small city as the site of Joan of Arc’s (or should I say Jeanne d’Arc’s?) death at the stake. So, that’s whimsical and artsy, too. No it isn’t.

Here’s the famed cathedral.

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And see the cross? That’s where Mademoiselle Jeanne d’Arc was burned. Alive. So. Ahem. That’s…awkward.

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All drama aside, Rouen was a really cute little town…that somehow, with a population just over 100,000, still gets to have an Hermes?

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That seems sort of unfair, Hermes. But whatever. Whatever.

I spent most of my day in the Vieille Ville, which was really charming because the architecture is almost entirely that style that I think is called half-timbered (but I’m not sure) but definitely looks like this:

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I liked it. It’s the kind of city I would love to see at Christmastime, because I already felt like I was walking through a little gingerbread village. (A gingerbread village with an Hermes.) Charmed.

Aside from walking through the streets, highlights of the day included the cathedral…

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…an especially delicious apple pastry (just embracing fall)…

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…and a visit to the museum that houses the second largest collection of Impressionist works (behind the Musee d’Orsay, obviously, holla…). As cool as it was to actually see some of Monet’s (haha I just typed Money’s…) Rouen Cathedral paintings in Rouen, I think my favorite thing I saw there was the temporary exhibition installed in the stairways.

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It was cool. It made me smile and wonder how on earth the artist did that. And hey, if art does that, it’s doing something right…right? Maybe I’m just on serious art overload over here.

All in all, it was a great day. It’s consistently amazing to me how different the rest of France feels from Paris. I was told several times when I first arrived here that there’s Paris, and there’s the rest of France…and there are Parisians, and then there’s the rest of the French. Very different. I get where they’re coming from. And I am so, so grateful to get to experience it all.

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Plus fall.

Barcelona

My trip started bright and early on the morning of Friday, October 21. I was up at six to take the metro to the starting point for an hour-long shuttle that then took me to the way out of the way Beauvais (Ryanair, y’all) airport. By noon, I had landed in Barcelona and met up with my friend Nicole!

The first afternoon it was just the two of us while we waited on everyone else. (I’m just way above having class on Friday, what can I say….) After a delicious lunch at a cool, very modern-feeling burger place (mmmveggieburger) called Kiosko, we wandered down to the beach, through a park, and then around the Gothic Quarter, where our hotel was.

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I would like to eat this again, right now.

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Someday, I’ll stay at this hotel and laugh about my hostel days.

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fall, love

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favorite european fountain thus far

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Barcelona’s Arc de Triomphe: the Arc de Triomf. Yup, kid you not.

That night, our friend Amanda arrived! We all went out to dinner at this funky atmospheric restaurant. I split risotto and an awesome salad with Amanda, but I didn’t take a picture because these were the early days of the trip when I was young and foolish. It was great, but we were tired. Exhausted. Early night.

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The next day involved lots of wandering and sight-seeing. The day started like all my days start in my dreams:

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Doubling fisting Starbucks and a cup of fresh mango from this cute little market we wandered through. Well, I guess it’s not technically double fisting, because as you can see in this picture, yes, my hands are giant and my fingers are weirdly long and thus I am able to hold both cups in one hand. I fondly describe my fingers as “piano fingers”. Most of my friends fondly describe them as Salad Fingers. Okay, fine.

From there, we walked over to La Rambla, the famous pedestrian thoroughfare in Old Barcelona. We made a beeline straight for this place:

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Here is where I died of happiness. This place is right up there with the Harrods Food Halls and the Kensington Whole Foods. It’s the largest open-air market in Spain, and it was absolutely incredible. It took a lot of a restraint not to buy…everything. I’m going to let the pictures do the talking, because honestly my mind sort of glazed over with happy memories when I started remembering this place.

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Second double fisting of the day: Sangria and fresh fruit juice. Yes, it was noon. No, I’m not kidding.

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If you can’t tell, I went pretty snap happy. My friend Nicole pointed out that even though there are lots of incredible markets in France, none of them come close to being anywhere near as colorful as this one. It was a feast for the eyes…and a feast in the traditional sense. We loved it so much that after we tore ourselves away to go meet our friend Heather, we came right back.

Once we left for good, the four of us walked all the way down La Rambla towards the water. It was an absolutely beautiful day, and we had so much fun wandering around. And goofing around.

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We walked around looking at the boats for a bit before we all decided we needed a break and sat down on the edge of a dock. We probably spent an hour or so just sitting there, looking at the boats, chatting, and trying to come to terms with the amazing fact that somehow the four of us had managed to reunite…in Spain. We were in Spain? We couldn’t get over it.

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Butttt we were still in the mood to do some more sitting around and gabbing after that, so we just changed locations. We wanted to go to the beach anyway, so walked up to one of the many restaurants located right in the sand and enjoyed some drinks and hummus. It was heaven…so relaxing, so beautiful, so nice to be with these amazing friends I hadn’t seen in way too long.

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I’m just now realizing how done-in we apparently were on this particular afternoon (I’m pretty sure we were all coming right off of a week of midterms), because after our little aperitif, we went back to the hostel for a power nap. I’m not usually much of a napper, but I was OUT. I woke up feeling fresh and ready to enjoy the most amazing dinner EVER…

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At this brightly colored little gem of a place. It’s called Juicy Jones and it was VEGAN…apparently I’m making this whole vegan restaurant thing a little bit of a theme when I’m traveling. I didn’t take pictures, but we shared the yummiest tofu and peanut sauce appetizer, and then for dinner I ate a delightfully fresh salad, some sort of pasta bake, and apple crisp. It was quite the spread, and I was in heaven.

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Happy faces! (Except I don’t think Nicole was nuts about the place. I wish I had a euro for every time she asked “what do they have if they don’t have meat or cheese?” The girl’s lactose intolerant and probably eats more cheese in a day than I do in a week. Respect.)

Our night also included an awesome bar that’s housed in the horror wing of the wax museum. It was like a different world in there. For any Chattanoogans reading, imagine the Yellow Deli, but creepy (in a horror way, not a cult way). My pictures all came out blurry, but I’ll share anyway.

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It was awesome. We closed down the bar. Which is less impressive than it sounds considering the relatively early closing time. But the atmosphere was so fun here and we had the best time chatting while we sipped on giant goblets of sangria. And then the funniest thing of my life happened on my way out…but I fear the story would be lost in translation. Or it’s maybe one of those things only the four of us think is funny. Then why mention it, you ask? Because someday when I’m eighty and I re-read this blog post, I want to remember that. That’s why. I took a video of Amanda telling the story (she tells it best) so that senile me really can’t forget anything.

Sunday started with a run that was supposed to be a casual four or five mile leisurely jog by the beach. But, me being me, I got lost. After a truly hilarious series of events that included me being directed to the starting line for a race occurring that morning and endless sprinting through small Barcelona side streets, I finally made it back to the hotel, nine or ten miles later, exhausted, dehydrated (I brought no water, oops), and just in time to take the world’s fastest shower, gulp down some cereal, and make it the the hostel lobby in time to join in on the free Gaudi walking tour the hostel was offering.

I’m SO glad I miraculously found my way back in time, because the tour was great. Our guide was hilarious and managed to teach us everything about…everything, from Gaudi to what paella should look like to what she’s naming her new puppy to tales of her ex-boyfriend drama. Honestly, I didn’t know that a guided tour would be my thing, but I’m really glad we did this. I think running around the city just to see the Gaudi stuff and then, you know, snap a few pictures and leave wouldn’t have felt nearly as cool. In fact, I might have downright disliked it. But doing it this way was great!

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We finished the tour at the impressive Sagrada Familia (above), which sounds like it will be finished…never. I mean maybe my great-great-great grandchildren will take a field trip on their school rocketbus to go see the finished product, but even that seems ambitious. Still, even unfinished, the cathedral was beautiful and impressive and utterly unique. However, when my mind wanders back to this part of the tour, two things come to mind…

1.

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Look at that smug chihuahua in his doggles, just chilling outside of Sagrada Familia…he’s cooler than all of us, and he knows it.

2.

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Okay, so you probably can’t see the actual baby, but you might be able to make out the nativity scene over the main door. Well. Well. There’s a baby in that nativity scene, obviously. I guess Gaudi was having trouble making a realistic baby on his own, so his totally normal solution? He stole a dead baby from the hospital.

GASP.

I’m still disturbed. I don’t like to think about it. I probably shouldn’t have told you that. I’m just trying to get this image out of my mind by sharing it with the world wide web.

Anyway. Moving on. By the time the tour was done, we were starrrvvviinngg (me in particular after my unexpected long-distance sprint session this morning…oh goodness). We had a pact to hold out for Italian food until we got to Italy…but yeah, we rescinded on that one and went to the yummiest Italian place. Unfortunately, I have no pictures. I don’t know who I was in Barcelona. Just wait until I get to my Italy posts.

Once we finished lunch, we decided to see some Gaudi sights that weren’t included on the tour and took the metro to Park Guell. Lots of trekking up San Francisco-esque hills and one Chupa Chup later…

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Side Story: I learned about Chupa Chups on my tour, too! Apparently the Chupa Chups creator have a patent on the concept of lollipops on a stick. Or did. So every time anyone, anywhere, puts candy on a stick, they have to pay up to Chupa Chups & Co. Insanity.

We ended up with all of Barcelona laid out in front of us, and y’all know I love my views. Probably has something to do with all my past lives as royalty, ruling over kingdoms, view from the top, you know…yeah.

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To be totally honest, I love you, Barcelona, but compared to most of the European views I’ve seen, this one was sort of a yawn. God, I’m a spoiled brat. Ugh, can someone please replace this foul heap of concrete with a French Riviera scene? No, seriously, I’m being really unfair to poor Barcelona. The view was fine. Fine! Just…fine.

The real highlight of the park was my Chupa Chup.

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Just kidding. The real highlight of the park was hiding in a cave when the rain came. Yup, that happened.

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Just kidding. The real highlight of the park was me freaking out at the top of this weird little tower structure and climbing down on all fours. Yup, that also happened. It wasn’t my fault…no one was there to remind me that I hate heights. Heather was smarter…she got halfway up and declared that she “just didn’t want to go there.” I didn’t take a picture because I guess it’s not really a memory I’m all that keen to relive, but here’s the cross at the top of said structure. YEAH, IT LOOKS OMINOUS FOR A REASON, PEOPLE.

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Okay, I’m done. (I know, thank God, right?) Here was the actual highlight of the park.

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Just look at all that Gaudi gorgeousness!

Also, can someone tell me if this was featured on an episode of America’s Next Top Model? Because I swear it was. You’re not allowed to judge me because I’m not sure, so it’s only 99% embarrassing that I’m asking as opposed to 100% embarrassing.

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Didn’t they use that as a runway or something? My sister will totally know.

Here’s my attempt at being America’s Next Top Model…

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That’s me, totally pulling off the oh-so-chic drowned rat/wet hair/goofy smile look. Just hanging out in a little nook in the wall. Fierce. I’m doing something weird and hunchy with my shoulders, though, so I think that gets me extra points.

After our park trip, I enjoyed this beautiful snackfeast…

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Churros and chocolate! That hot chocolate was amaaazzzing. Second only to Angelina. Ooh, and maybe that hot chocolate I had in Venice.

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Flashback…you’ll always have my heart.

Dinner that night was at a place called Sandwich and Friends. There are several of them around Barcelona, and it seemed very…LA-ish, almost? (Los Angeles. Not Louisiana. Pfft, I wish.) One of the cool and unexpected things about Barcelona was that all of the restaurants were very trendy and modern feeling in different ways. It almost felt American, really. They all seemed designed with a particular “feel” in mind, and they all seemed like they were built (or at least redesigned) in the last decade or so. This is completely different from France, where 90% of the restaurants all have very similar but utterly charming and lovely French vibes. A Parisian cafe is fairly indistinguishable from any other Parisian cafe, in my humble opinion. I love that, because that means that all Parisian cafes feel equally wonderful and authentic, but there is a little part of me that misses the variety you find in American restaurants. In fact, even just generally speaking, Barcelona is far and away the most American-esque city I’ve visited thus far in Europe. It didn’t feel nearly as Spanish as I expected it to. (I probably sound really American saying that, but oh well…I mean, I am American, no point hiding it.) I think this would have disappointed me a little if I had crossed the Atlantic with the sole intention of visiting Barcelona, but for a brief weekend trip smack-dab in the middle of a very European semester, it was the perfect little Euro-flavored taste of home! I really loved it. The city is young and modern and funky and cool…I would go back and do it all over again. The one bad thing is that I learned they outlawed bull fighting in Barcelona…and if I go back to Spain, I’m seeing a bullfight.

la nuit blanche

So, last night. La Nuit Blanche. Nothing like I expected, but definitely memorable.

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My friends and I had read that the Marais was supposed to be a great place to go for the event, so, seeing as how I love that area anyway, we set off for there around midnight. We’d looked into the exhibits, and one of the ones that really caught our eye was called “Purple Rain”. Basically the idea was that within this one courtyard, they’d have rain falling, purple light, and (we thought) Prince music playing. (Get it?) Everyone would get their own personal umbrella upon entering the courtyard. Sounds cool, right?

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Apparently, I don’t know, all of Paris thought so, too, because we arrived at the exhibit and were disappointed to find that the line literally stretched for blocks. At that point, we figured that we had all night (the event ran until seven in the morning), so we decided we might as well jump in line.

One hour later, we were questioning this decision a bit, but after all, we were one hour in, so we weren’t about to throw all that away. We were committed.

An hour after that, we were starting to get seriously impatient. The line, which had been moving fairly quickly, slowed down quite a bit. It was late. It was getting cold(er). We just wanted to see the thing, and it was tantalizingly close.

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Forty-five minutes after that, we were finally allowed in. And, uh, what was I thinking? Getting rained on is one of my least favorite things. In fact, if you want to see me at my absolute worst, either force me to go too long without food, or get me stuck in the rain. (A few very lucky souls have no doubt witnessed me too hungry and getting rained on–it’s not something you want to see, ever.) Maybe I lack whimsy, but I’m totally a sunshine person, always have been, and I absolutely hate the feeling of cold, slimy urban rain splashing all over me. Even if it is interestingly lit.

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Actually, in my defense, I know what I was thinking. I was expecting a light drizzle. A pleasant mist to accompany the eerie purple light. You know. Something a little magical. The kind of rain I think Owen Wilson’s character liked in Midnight in Paris. But no. This was a torrential downpour. Despite my mod-ish clear umbrella, my shoes and skirt were absolutely sodden after a mere 20 seconds in the installation. Furthermore, it wasn’t Prince music playing–it was weird, almost otherworldly spaceship-is-landing music that was not helping to improve my newly dampened (HA) mood.

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To be fair, it was pretty cool. Once I got over myself. The rain was coming down too hard for me to get a good look, but I genuinely could not tell where the rain was coming from. It was like we were in an enchanted courtyard or something. At the end of the day (night?), it was a cool Parisian experience to have had, and it was worth the long wait. Well, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

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We wandered into one other exhibit after that, but by this point, it was past three in the morning, and we were all cold and wet and sort of needing a break from the long lines and huge crowds (like Disney World for Parisian scenesters).

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So, we found some overpriced but thankfully open café called Dome, where we proceeded to lounge on the extraordinarily comfortable lounge-like seating for the next hour or so.

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And, um, where some of us apparently decided to dance with the geisha (?) that was wondering around the place. ?

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I got a Kir, which is a French cocktail made with white wine and crème de cassis. Sweet, but tasty. To be totally honest, I just got it because it was one of the cheapest things on the menus.

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For some reason I’m still not totally sure of, we eventually got up and left. At this point, I would have happily stayed curled up on my couch until the breakfast place around the corner opened. But no. Instead, we began a march toward the bus stop in the Bastille, which turned out to be quite the experience, as the gentlemen hanging around these parts at four in the morning are…hmm, how to put this nicely? Totally foul and disgusting slimeballs who do not know the meaning of the words “no” or “go away”…in French or English. Some guy grabbed my face while muttering something I’m sure he thought was really charming. (It wasn’t.) Look, I’ve lived in New Orleans for two years, I’m used to the occasional creeper. But I have to say, that was a first. I was too shell-shocked to do anything, but in retrospect, I kind of wish I had punched him. Ew. Creep.

So, anyway. That’s one to cross of the European bucket list. Oh wait, weird, I didn’t have “unwillingly be subjected to having some slimy guy run his no doubt contaminated hands all over my face” on my bucket list. How strange. Remind me to thank him for adding that really special moment to my semester abroad.

I’m still mad. So inappropriate. Moving on.

Turns out the bus wasn’t coming, and cabs are a fortune and few and far between, so we realized we were either walking home or hanging out with our new face-grabbing friends for the night. So, we walked. Yayy, I get to run into more inebriated sleazy European men! (Don’t worry, Mom and Dad, we were a giant group and walking through the equivalent of the Upper East Side of Paris. Safe.)

Despite my complaining, the walk home definitely had its advantages. Like seeing the nighttime reflections of Paris on the Seine…

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or Notre Dame all lit up…

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or finally getting to take a picture with this little café. (Eating there actually is on my Euro bucket list.)

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By the time we got back to the dorm, it was nearly six. So, I mean, we could have gone to bed and slept the day away. But there was that breakfast place in the Marais that I’d had my eye on…and we only had two and a half hours before it opened…so yeah, the choice was clear. Put on warmer clothes, knock back two vending machine coffees, and go back to the Seine to watch the sunrise.

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We opted for seats right by Notre Dame, although Montmarte and Versailles were also entertained as options.

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From my Twitter, circa 6:30 this morning.

(Inspired by the scene in Marie-Antoinette where they watch the sunrise in the gardens after staying up all night celebrating the queen’s birthday. You know I tried to find a clip…sadly, I failed.)

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I can’t decide if I like Notre Dame in the middle of the night or at dawn better….

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At 8:00, we finally allowed ourselves to get on the metro and head to the Marais in hopes that Breakfast in America, the diner we were headed for, would open promptly at 8:30 as promised. After a walk down the Rue du Rivoli (which was eerily empty but beautifully lit at the early hour), we arrived at 8:30 on the dot, and only had to wait about ten minutes to go in. Not bad for Paris, I’m told…plus I am eternally grateful that this place was even open on Sunday, as most of the city shuts down.

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Sadly, at this point in the night/morning, my mind was fried and it didn’t even occur to me to take a single picture. I had a pretty much single-minded focus on the food, which was heavenly. I had a veggie omelette and the most amazing, garlicky home fries you can imagine. With ketchup. So much ketchup. I’ve missed it.

Breakfast was actually nearly perfect in every way, from the delicious food to the wheat (!) toast we got to toast ourselves in our own little toaster, to our waitress, who was smiley and gave us by far the BEST customer service of anywhere I’ve been in Paris so far. Love those American standards. Crisp, cool air was blowing through the open door, I’d intentionally chosen to wear my plaid scarf for the first time of the season, and despite the unusually warm weather Paris has been experiencing, you could feel the promise of fall in the air. We were all slightly punchy over lack of sleep but mostly ridiculously content to be eating huge platters of American-style breakfast food. It’s not like staying out long enough to watch the sunrise is something I do all that often (or at all, really, although I will say that I’ve proudly survived the tequila sunrise ordeal on the last day of Mardi Gras two years in a row, thank you very much), but in my limited experience, there’s always kind of a fun feeling of camaraderie in those last few delirious early morning hours.

Staying up all night in Paris wasn’t on the bucket list, but it should have been. To think that I’ve now seen Notre Dame and the Seine in the black of night and the new light of day, that I’ve witnessed vendors setting up flower markets before most people’s alarms have rung, that I know what some of the busiest streets in Paris feel like when they’re nearly empty…it’s pretty cool, really. I’m glad to be able to say I’ve done it. And now, I think I need my second nap of the day before I do some actual homework. Much love to you all!

Versailles, Part II

Okay, I’m kindofalmost regretting hyping this post so much, because it’s not like anything mind-blowingly amazing happened at Versailles last Sunday. It was really just one of those days where all the little things went right.

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Let’s start with the fact that Paris has been experiencing unseasonably warm weather this week. So remember my whiny comments after my last Versailles trip about how it was so great, everything was so pretty, BUT I REALLY WISHED I’D BROUGHT A JACKET? (Okay, maybe that’s just how I remember that day in my mind. I’m one of those obnoxious people that’s freezing the second the temperature dips below 65 degrees.)

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Anyway, the point is that the weather was perfect and beautiful and wonderfully warm. I was actually almost hot a few times–I know, I’m Goldilocks. But I’ll take hot over cold any day!

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So, go ahead and chalk one up for sunshine & warmth.

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Moving right along. Reason number two why this day was great: I skipped actually going into the chateau. Don’t get me wrong–I am so glad I saw it the first time around. But honestly, the house has nothing on the gardens. Plus, it was such a stunningly beautiful day, the last place I wanted to be was fighting my way through flocks of rabid tourists and trying to avoid getting taken out by an errant flying camera. Nope, I just wanted to be outside. In nature.

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Well, in my kind of nature, which is immaculately manicured, snake-free, and where you’re always conveniently within eyesight of a massive chateau.

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So outdoorsy!

Here’s another thing that made Versailles awesome.

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Actually, I see a lot of little white dogs in Paris (shocker, right), but it’s difficult for me to get a picture without the owner thinking I’m a crazy dog-napper. Which is fair enough, because I’d be lying if I said I haven’t considered it. Anyway, this little guy just seemed especially happy and adorable…and its owner was conveniently absorbed in the process of purchasing fresh orange juice. So I snapped a picture. Pretty cute, right? But here’s something even cuter…

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Not that I’m biased or anything.

Back to Versailles. Everything made this day right. Lunch was a picnic (!) of some yummy cheesy “focaccia verdure” thing (didn’t take a picture, don’t even known what it really is, but I’ll remember it forever) and iced tea. After lunch, I had my first ice cream CONE in years. I ate it by the huge, beautiful…uh, man-made water feature (?) that was full of people enjoying the sun in these beautiful old-fashioned boats that looked straight out of The Notebook. (Don’t lie, you know exactly what boat I’m talking about.) I’m really kicking myself for not taking a picture of that; I was too busy trying to remember how to keep ice cream from dripping all over my clothes. It’s a skill I’ve forgotten in the past ten years, apparently. It was so surreally perfect and beautiful, truly one of those many Parisian moments where you feel like life isn’t even real…that you’ve stumbled into some kind of utopia or have gone back in time or have mistakenly shown up on the set of a movie. It was just…perfect. I just felt so sublimely content. I remember wishing I could actually freeze time, thinking I could stay like that forever. But we were off!

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To the Grand Trianon, a house/chateau/large building built on the Versailles estate built by Louis XIV so that he could “escape the pressures of court life”. What that means is that he wanted to carry on an affair with his mistress, Madame de Montespan, more privately. (If this were Twitter, I would tag this #historydork.) The reason for this journey was so that we could see the exhibit being held there that was kind of a “then and now” of French fashion. It was really interesting and I’m glad I saw it, but I will say that some of the modern pieces had me scratching my head. Pictures, shockingly, were not allowed, but suffice it to say that every other garment (as my fashion crush Tim Gunn would say) looked more like a ridiculous costume than actual clothes. Or like something Lady Gaga would wear. I think I’d prefer the Marie-Antoinette-era outfits they had on display, to be totally honest.

Anyway, the real treat came after the Grand Trianon. Because…you guessed it…I FINALLY MADE IT TO LE HAMEAU!

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Sadly, I did not get to ride a bike there (I had this image in my head…), because by the time I was at the Grand Trianon, I was almost there anyway. But it didn’t matter. I was obsessed with this place.

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This little (relatively speaking) corner of the Versailles grounds feels absolutely nothing like the rest of the place. It’s rustic and charming, full of winding paths and vegetation that’s actually been allowed to grow freely.

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It was also much less touristy–I looked up at one moment and realized there wasn’t a single soul in sight. I can’t even remember the last time I was that alone outside.

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Lily pads!

I felt a million miles away from Paris and even the rest of Versailles. I can only imagine how Marie Antoinette must have felt…you know, back before there was a parking lot right outside of her little hameau. I can’t help but feel like I would have wanted to spend all of my time here, too.

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There was even a little farm! It definitely wasn’t the most fragrant part of the day, but animals are animals, and I love them. (Except for cats. I have met, like, three cats I actually liked in my entire life. I think they’re mostly demon creatures.)

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As hard as it was, I eventually meandered away from Le Hameau and all of its sun-dappled perfection. This was easily one of my top five favorite things I’ve done in France so far, though, so if you ever find yourself at Versailles, I highly recommend you take the time to go out to the Queen’s Hameau. Rent a bike! I wish I had.

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I reunited with some friends and we attempted to watch one of the fountain shows (the fountains at Versailles do interesting musical things, I guess like France’s answer to the Bellagio or something…), but we were at the wrong fountain and not even within sight of the right one (only at Versailles), so we missed it. It didn’t matter, though. The day felt perfect as it was. I was absolutely exhausted once I got back to the dorm and had every intention of collapsing in my bed for all of eternity…but then my friends told me they were going to get falafel. So all intentions of resting were, obviously, thrown out the window.

Funny thing about the falafel, though…the line for the famous place I’ve raved about was really long, so we went to the falafel place across the street instead. Um, it was even better than L’As du Fallafel. Awkward. The falafel tasted even more delightful (which I know because they gave out free samples while we were waiting in line), they put more eggplant in than the other place, I’m pretty sure the pita bread was homemade, and, to top it all off, THEY HAD SPICY SAUCE. It is so difficult to find food with some spice to it in this country (I know, feel sorry for me, I have to eat all this French food), so I was all over that. And I think they made a convert out of me. So I’ll just go ahead and say it. If you’re in Paris, don’t bother waiting in the long line for L’As du Fallafel. Go to Mi Va Mi across the street. You’ll get better food, faster. (Not that L’As isn’t amazing, because it totally is…I just liked the other one a bit better. What can I say. It was spicy.)

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One more solo shot…my mother tells me she likes seeing pictures of me in places. I’m assuming this is so that she knows that I am, in fact, alive. And not wasting away to nothingness, despite the fact that I spend approximately half of every Skype session we have complaining about the cost of food here. And the lack of peanut butter–which is, after all, where 90% of my nourishment came from in America. I love the stuff. If anyone wants to send me some PB&Co Bee’s Knees peanut butter (it would go nicely with those J.Crew boots I showed you the other day), I just might love you forever.

from musée d’orsay to ladurée

I had a seriously jam-packed weekend this weekend, so I’ll probably be posting about it for the rest of this week to make up for the unexciting things I did today (ran, went to class, ate bread). My friend Nicole, who’s studying abroad in Lyon this semester, has been visiting for the past few days. She seriously came at the perfect time, because, as we realized, all of us Tulane kids here are settled enough that we no longer feel like we’re running around with our heads cut off (oh, that was just me?), but we still haven’t had time to do all the touristy stuff. So I got to spend this weekend doing just that! Lots of it. I loved it. These things are touristy for a reason, people. No shame in walking around clutching your camera and your Paris map book like you’ll die without them.

Not that I’ve done that every day for the past ten days or anything.

For starters, I paid some serious homage to both of my blog’s namesakes. That’s right–this weekend included some (very famous) Monets and some (even more famous) macaroons.

On Sunday, Nicole, her friend Galee (who goes to Tulane and who I am SO glad to have met because she lives near me in Paris and is super wonderful), and I went to the museum I have been most excited to visit: le musée d’Orsay!

This museum is located in an old train station, so it’s really beautiful and fun to walk around. It’s best known for housing the world’s largest collection of Impressionist works, so any of you who know me or, more specifically, have taken art history with me, know I was practically peeing my pants when I found out it was on our agenda for the day.

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Hello, beautiful.

Unfortunately, photos were not allowed in the museum. I don’t know that I would have taken many, though…what’s the point? A. You can find a better visual of any of the paintings online, anyway, and B. I got weirdly selfish in that museum. I was sort of feeling like I’d been reunited with my long-lost love after finally seeing all this art I’ve obsessed over in person and was annoyed that there were all these tourists around ruining my special moment with Degas. Ugh. Glad I’m not one.

So, yeah, I wanted to keep the art all to myself. I was getting, like, awkwardly close to all the paintings. (If they weren’t glass-covered I probably would have been beaten to death by a curator or something). It was just so surreal to see all these works in person, to know that Monet actually stood in front of that canvas, that Seurat actually made those meticulous little dots, that if I turn my head at just the right angle, I can see the texture of Renoir’s brushstrokes. It felt so tangible. I could actually imagine the artists as real people. (No idea what I thought of them as before if I didn’t think of them as real people, though….) I felt like I was dreaming.

Okay, art nerd freakout over. It was wonderful. The best part is, as a student at a French university, I can always get into the museum for free! I’ll be back, often.

In keeping with my newly-coined tradition, I snapped an illegal photo.

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Missing you.

Anyway. We did a lot more that day and over the whole weekend, but I’m going to skip ahead to the macaroons and come back to the other stuff later. We all know that’s what I was most excited about anyway.

Sunday, we went here.

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This place belongs in the hallowed ranks of Kensington Whole Foods and the Harrods Food Halls. You know that means I loved it…too much.

Ladurée produces what must be the most well-known macaroons in the world. (Although their old head pastry chef left and opened his own patisserie, which is supposed to give Ladurée quite the run for its money…scandalous!) Anyway, I knew it was good because in an episode of Gossip Girl, it is revealed that Blair Waldorf’s favorite macaroons are from Ladurée. And we all know she has impeccable taste. Also, someone told me that Ladurée did the pastries for Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. And where else am I going to take my cues if not from pop culture?!

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When in France…live as Marie-Antoinette did. Just don’t die like her.

We had to wait in a long line, but OF COURSE it was worth it. Although Galee and I were sad to learn that you couldn’t get their hot chocolate (which is supposed to be excellent) to go. Oh well. I got this.

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That, my friends, is un macaron caramel à la fleur de sel. Or, you know, a macaroon of the salted caramel variety.

It. Was. Heaven.

This was honestly the best macaroon I’ve ever had. The two of us definitely had a moment on the Champs Elysées.

(Yeah, we went to the one on the Champs Elysées, but I’m dying to go to what I’m pretty sure is the original on Rue Royale. I think the interior hasn’t been changed since shortly after it opened in the 19th century. Imagine the gorgeous. While the one we went to was designed similarly and feels charming and sumptuous, it’s not authentic.)

I do, however, have a dirty little secret to share. I also had a chocolate macaroon (or, if you want to be technical about it, chocolat pure origine de Chuao). This macaroon was good. Very good. But here’s the thing…it was no better or worse than any other very good macaroon I’ve had in my life. Sad, but true. And here’s where the secret gets dirtier. My friend Fabienne’s mom (who, if you know her, is just as chic as Fabienne, I would totally trust her to know these things) heard that Ladurée actually freezes their macaroons after making them so they can keep up with customer demand. And you know what? The delightful chocolate filling was suspiciously cold. Hmmmm. Worth thinking about.

In any case, I wasn’t lying when I said that the salted caramel one would absolutely abolish any other macaroon I’ve ever had in a taste test. So my advice is, if you find yourself in Paris, get 127 of those. You’ll die. And then you’ll be sad, because dead people can’t go to Ladurée.

I’ll be back soon with more tales from the weekend…but until then, watch this. Ladurée is another place where pictures are not allowed. Weird, I know. So this will help you visualize the perfection. Warning: You might drool, protect your keyboard.

http://www.laduree.fr/fr/reve/zoom