Tag Archives: sightseeing

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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an afternoon on the tuileries

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I recently spent a spare (and unusually sunny) afternoon wandering through and around the lovely Jardin des Tuileries, nestled in between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde, which marks the beginning the Champs Elysées, which stretches, famously and beautifully, to the Arc de Triomphe. So I was basically right in the middle of one of the most visited, most beautiful, most well-known areas of the city, and it was delightful.

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The park’s looking lovely this type of year, which just a few lingering brightly colored leaves silhouetted against skies that are usually a wintery dove grey, but on this particular Friday, managed to retain some vestige of that summertime blue I miss so much.

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A ferris wheel is all set up as part of the small Christmas market at one end of the park, ready to offer anyone willing to fork over the ten euro fee what I’m sure are stunning views of the city.

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The shops on Rue de Rivoli, which runs along the non-Seine side of the park, are beautifully adorned for the holiday season.

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The hot chocolate and the Mont-Blanc pastry I enjoyed n at Angelina were divinely decadent, much like the building in which they were served.

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I visited L’Orangerie, where Monet’s wall-sized murals left me feeling serene and full of awe. (I had to borrow some photographic evidence.)

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And as I made my way home, the sunset over the city was positively breathtaking (and amusingly patriotic, for both of my most beloved countries).

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I’m feeling pretty blissfully lucky these days, and equal parts thrilled and devastated that I’m going home so soon. I seem to fall more and more in love with Paris every day.

Berlin

So, remember when I promised that I would be caught up on all my intended posts before I left to travel last Friday?

I might have broken my promise, a little bit.

Despite my best efforts, I didn’t quite make it to this post: Berlin!

I went to Berlin the weekend of November 18th, and it was actually a very special trip because I went alone. I know. It was sort of a stressful decision to make. Okay, it was a really stressful decision to make.

Traveling somewhere alone was actually an idea I had stored in the back of my mind for something I would do abroad if I magically became very cool and independent. There was a kind of allure to the idea…it just seemed like something that a real, grown-up, mature, fearless (a.k.a. not me) person would do. But, instead of spontaneously booking the tickets and eagerly anticipating the weekend, I went back and forth for days trying to decide if I was making a horrible decision, if I would be bored and lonely, if I would be taken the moment I landed in the airport and my parents would spend the rest of their lives wondering what happened to me on my way to Berlin. I turned it into a huge deal, but encouraged by tales of how cool Berlin was and reassurance from friends and family that I might just be mature and street-smart enough to pull the whole thing off, I booked the flight and hotel…two days before I was supposed to be leaving. And then I cried. Really, though.

Anyway, you’ll be glad to know that I’m 100% thrilled to have made the decision I did! And that I obviously was not kidnapped or murdered in a dark German alley. There were definitely moments when I wished I had someone to talk to (or, more often, someone to make decisions for me), but it was a really great trip. And perhaps most importantly, I returned to France feeling that much more confident in my ability to eventually become a real, grown-up, mature, fearless person. Someday.

Berlin began with yet another sign that, as much as I love the places I’ve been able to travel to this semester, I really did make the right choice when I decided to study abroad in Paris. As I walked from the airport to the metro, I passed a whole row of advertisements for the European budget airline Easyjet. Each ad was for a different city and basically had an orange (the company’s color) object that was representative of that city. Brussels had an orange chocolate bar. London had an orange tea pot. You get the idea. I wondered what Paris’s would be and kept my eye out for it…and finally, after passing what felt like dozens of other cities, the last one was my temporary home sweet home.

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It’s a dog. A white, super girly dog. Even though it’s big, and not a Bichon, and much more devotedly groomed than my little ragamuffins ever will be, it just confirmed that, yes, I do belong in Paris. Good decision-making, me one year ago.

But anyway! I got into Berlin at night, so I just checked into my hotel, watched a movie, and crashed. And yes, I stayed in a real hotel…it seemed a little bit safer than a hostel. So I guess that makes me a little less daring and adventurous. But it was really, truly wonderful to be able to sleep in a nice bed, work out in a gym for the first time since August, shower in a bathroom I don’t have to share with a million other people, and even order room service. After months of hostels and the smallest dorm room ever, I felt like royalty.

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So, seeing as I was alone, my Berlin weekend looked sort of similar from day to day and was heavy on the sightseeing. I always woke up later than I intended to, went to a Starbucks (I pre-mapped them before showing up in Berlin, I know, I know) for breakfast and then saw sight after sight until it got dark, at which point I’d go back to my hotel and take advantage of the workout room. Working out in shorts and a running top again was awesome. I was not made to handle cold weather.

One of my first major stops was the Pergamon Museum, which was awesome. Basically, Germany went to other countries, snagged some really incredible, often really large things, and reconstructed them inside this museum. Things like, you know, the Ishtar Gate. And the Pergamon Altar. Small, insignificant…you know.

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Really, these things were so monstrous, there’s no way to fit them into a single picture without the use of a helicopter and an impressive lens.

I also went to the Berlin Cathedral, which was beautiful and impressive.

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I was sort of miffed because you had to pay four euros to get in, which is soooo un-churchlike and I personally don’t think Jesus would approve, but then there ended up being a teeny little gallery/museum inside–and, more importantly, you could climb to the top and have access to some pretty impressive views of Berlin. So obviously that was going to happen! And I got over my irritation with the whole four euro thing.

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Possibly the most well-known place I visited was the famous Brandenberg Gate. In the words of Let’s Go Europe, the best travel guide ever, “Friederich Wilhelm II built the gate as a symbol of military victory, but Germans these days prefer to shy away from that designation, you know, because of WWI and, uh, WWII.” So there’s some semi-humorous background for you.

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And here’s a semi-humorous photo of me cheesing with some faux German/American soldiers.

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Aux armes, citoyens!

There were two potential correct languages (slash national anthems…) I could have gone with there, and I still got it wrong. Oh, France, what have you done to me?

As cool as the real Brandenberg Gate was, I liked this one better.

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MAYBE BECAUSE IT’S MADE OF PURE CHOCOLATE.

I saw this total gem at Fassbender and Rausch Chocolatiers, a famous chocolate shop that also boasts chocolate replicas of the Titantic, the Berliner Dom, a volcano, and other large, impressive things. The place was enormous, and it would have been extremely out of character if I hadn’t picked up a few little gifts for certain chocolate-lovers back home (just a warning, Crevasses, you might end up with chocolate from every country I’ve visited). And of course, a little treat for myself.

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(To be honest, that was not mine. I got some much fancier and more decadent truffle thing obviously, but I forgot to take a picture. So instead you get to see the cute little Berlin bear they threw in for free. Because they totally loved me and sensed my German ancestry.)

A trip to Berlin wouldn’t be complete without spotting some remnants of the Berlin Wall…which was definitely cool, but you know, it was before my time. It’s like the difference between seeing a WWII memorial and a 9/11 memorial. We’ve been talking about this sort of thing a lot in my artsy farsty classes…so you know…sometimes I go to school. There’s your proof.

Seriously, though, I wish I’d made it to the East Side Gallery, where there’s some pretty impressive street art displayed on remnants of the wall…but alas, I didn’t. Next time!

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One of the most moving things I saw was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, located just down the street from the Brandenberg Gate. The structure was incredibly somber, and it was actually a little bit frightening and disorienting to walk through the blocks. They were taller than me in the middle of the memorial, and it’s impossible to see other people walking around them until you literally run into each other. So, you know, creates a little bit of a jumpy atmosphere. The children flying over your head as they jump from block to block really add the excitement.

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I also visited the Topography of Terror Museum, which details the rise and fall of the Nazi Party, and where I took one picture…of the most frighteningly Aryan family EVER.

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And the DDR Museum, where I also only took one picture.

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Come on, it’s pretty funny. Also, as you might notice, while I thought the museums overall were really well done, the translation was not always excellent. Not a problem or annoying or anything, it’s just kind of interesting to notice where and when that happens in Europe.

One of the things that was interesting but sort of sad about Berlin was that there almost seemed to be this air of necessary atonement in some these museums and memorials. When I went to Normandy in early November, I remember talking with my friends about how in the south, decades after the Civil Rights movement and even longer since the abolition of slavery–both events that I and my peers were in no way involved in–you still have to be really careful when you talk about “southern pride”. It’s necessary to be specific about what that pride stems from. I can’t help but wonder how young people in Germany feel about the events of WWII, and how long it will take before the horrific events of WWII truly feel like a horrific part of the past than something haunting the present. For all of us, really. I mean, I’m sure no Germans are ashamed or upset to be German–I’m not ashamed or upset to have been raised in the South, after all–it doesn’t have to define the country the way it once did. It’s just interesting to think about.

On a lighter note, I spent some time doing less formal sightseeing–primarily wandering around Berlin’s famously plentiful flea markets and the Christmas markets that were being set up around the city. These were some of my favorite things I did–I didn’t even buy anything, it’s just so fun to wander! And even more fun when you’re sipping on mulled wine. 🙂

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Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the bretzels. Which, in full disclosure, I began using as meal replacements at some point during the weekend. So much carby goodness.

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Berlin was a really cool city that somehow felt very different from most other cities I’ve visited this semester. I really am so glad that I did a trip alone, but someday I’d like to go back with friends…specifically so that I can explore the Berlin nightlife scene, which I hear is really cool. Above all, considering that I made it back in one piece and, as far as I know, without any creepy stalkers in tow, I’d say the trip was a success. I’d do it again!

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.

Rome

Roma Roma Roma…the last stop on our amazing trip. The Eternal City. Rome was nothing like I expected in some ways and exactly like I expected in others. The city was sprawling and beautiful, at once modern and ancient. Cars raced down streets and around traffic circles in a frantic, interminable river, making crossing the street a heart-pumping, adrenaline-filled experience. Ancient ruins sat waiting around every corner, Vespas whizzed by constantly, and the food–the food. It was unforgettable.

Rome was actually a little bit sad at first, because our little travel family went separate ways upon arrival. Amanda is studying in Rome for the semester, so she went back to her homestay. Heather’s parents were in town, so she headed off to their hotel. Meanwhile, Nicole, Tess, and I checked into our hostel. But we also gained a traveler! My friend Eric met us in Rome, bringing the Tulane count to six. NICE.

Nicole and I celebrated our arrival in Italy with some McDonald’s french fries. What, that’s not what you want immediately upon arriving in the capital of the greatest food country ever? Weird of you.

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Our first night, we wandered around a bit before meeting Amanda for dinner. We ended up passing this impressive building. I’m still not entirely sure what purpose it serves, but Tess’s guidebook described it as a monument basically just meant to say “WE ARE ITALY. WE ARE GREAT.”

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Fair enough.

We also sat by these Roman ruins and tried to figure out where exactly the Colosseum was. Embarrassingly enough, it was pretty much right down the street. We didn’t find out until a day later. It would seriously be like standing on the Champs Elysées and scratching your head over the location of the Arc de Triomphe. I pray that no actual Romans overheard our conversation. Or, you know, anyone.

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Dinner that night was 1000 kinds of amazing. (This was sort of a theme in Italy…shockingly.) We went to Dar Poeta, an amazing little restaurant located on the most charming cobblestone alley you’ve ever seen in your life. It was in Trastevere, a.k.a. Amanda’s hood! Unreal.

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We feasted on bruschetta (Amanda and I had a blue cheese and honey variety that was actually life-changing, I crave it regularly) and some of the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life.

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Oops, blurry.

The real highlight of the meal, however, was this:

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That, my friends, is a Nutella and ricotta calzone. Mark your calendars for our upcoming nuptials.

The next day was insanely and wildly successful in terms of sightseeing. Rome is huge, and we knocked out a serious chunk of the requisite attractions in those 12 or so hours. I slept like a rock that night. Actually, I always sleep like a rock. But you get the point.

Our day started bright and early and in line for the Vatican museum. We thought the entire Vatican experience would take until around lunchtime or so…we were very, very wrong. And I’m so glad. I don’t think there’s a nook of that place we left unexplored. Including the Pope’s living quarters. Okay, that’s a lie, but we found out which windows belong to him.

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(They aren’t those ones.)

The museum was really incredible! Eric and I went all out and sprung for the audio guides…any shame I might have once had about marking myself as a tourist has completely dissipated since August. American and proud, y’all.

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Highlights included:

dead mummy feet

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the super cool map room

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a Gator! For you, Dad. And because all ancient Romans were obviously Florida fans.

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I guess the School of Athens was pretty cool. (Especially because it was commissioned just to decorate a pope’s living quarters…which is funny, because I also commissioned Raphael to paint a mural in my bedroom! Great minds think alike, Pope Julius II.)

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Annndd then there was this tiny obscure work of art I really liked! Sadly I couldn’t take any pictures…no idea why…but it was called the Sistine Chapel, if that helps you imagine it.

(This might help, too: http://www.vatican.va/various/cappelle/sistina_vr/index.html)

After spending several hours touring the museum, we grabbed a bite to eat…

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SALAD PIZZA! It’s carb-y and vegetable-y. In other words, my dream meal.

And then made our way to St. Peter’s.

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Heather and her parents reunited with us there, so that was exciting! We ended up accidentally in line to go to the top of the dome…best mistake ever. We not only got to see the inside of the Basilica from the dome, we also got to see the view of Rome outside of it! It just took a ridiculous number of steps, winding staircases, and narrow passageways.

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Once we came down, we wandered around the inside of the basilica…

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…and saw some more semi-famous art.

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Also, do you know that you can get married in St. Peter’s? If you’re willing to pay an absurd amount of money and wait 147 or so years. Cool!

We met up with Amanda (this was probably around 4:30 in the afternoon, mind you), and then the sightseeing whirlwind began. Because 7 hours of thoroughly exploring the Vatican and 551 steps wasn’t enough.

We walkednacross this beautiful bridge designed by Bernini. (Angels, quit being so dramatic.)

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had some of the BEST gelato of my life (that’s pumpkin…my heart fluttered with happiness for a good 24 hours afterward)

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wandered around this beautiful piazza (which I should definitely know the name of but have forgotten)

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past (and through) the Pantheon

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made our way to the Trevi fountain, where I of course tossed a coin in so as to ensure my return to this magical city

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and eventually ended up at the Colosseum, which was very cool to see at night.

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From there, we took another lengthy stroll in the direction of the restaurant we planned on eating at. At this point, it was nearing 10:00. We also caught sight of the Vatican in the far, far distance at one point and realized that we’d not only spent 7 hours walking around the place, we had since put several miles between ourselves and the capital of Catholicism. On foot. Taking a very indirect route. On cobblestone streets. It was worth every step, but I guess it wasn’t a surprise that my feet felt like they were about to become unattached at the ankle?

And that we were total gypsies at the tram stop.

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And that dinner tasted like heaven and then some.

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And that I completely CRASHED that night.

Sightseeing slowed down after our first day, but we still managed to continue seeing the Eternal City at a pretty impressive rate. The next day started at the Colosseum, again.

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Heather made some gladiator friends.

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We lingered over Roman ruins.

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We ate a delicious lunch at a mozzarella bar in a little piazza that was hosting a great market.

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We went to the Piazza del Popolo, home to the Twin Churches (that I think might be mentioned in Angels and Demons?)

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…and more importantly, home these days to a middle school track meet. Can you imagine if your track meet were there?!

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We went to the Villa Borghese, a beautiful and expansive park that offered great views of Rome.

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We laid down in the grass, where I took a much-needed nap. After an hour or so of lounging and chatting, we made our way back down into the city…

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past the Spanish steps…

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and to Heather’s parents’ hotel, where we had some wine and appetizers and shared lovely conversation before heading out to the world’s most perfect dinner.

All of my dinners this trip were completely amazing. Not one left me at all unhappy in any way. But something about this last dinner was very special. It just kind of…sparkled.

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We ate at a restaurant on one side of a small, quiet square. When we first showed up, we were the only people there. There wasn’t even anyone in the little piazza–it was just us and a team of waiters, and I felt like so at home in this far away place with my oh-so-special fellow travelers (and Heather’s parents, who were completely amazing and ever so kindly took us under their wing).

Everyone’s meal was impossibly good. We all nibbled on this asparagus covered with cheese and shaved white truffles. It was…incredible. (The photo quality is not, sadly.)

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And then Heather, Amanda, and I made two really excellent decisions. Between the three of us, we had ordered two plates of gnocchi with pear and gorgonzola sauce and one plate of cuttlefish ink gnocchi with pesto and sun-dried tomatoes.

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Like I said, my photos aren’t the best quality (far from it), but this meal–it was unforgettable. And I think black pasta is one of the coolest, greatest things ever. (Also the way the desserts were plated was completely charming.)

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We said goodbye to Heather that night, and I definitely might have shed a tear or two that our little family was splitting up and our absolutely amazing trip of a lifetime was coming to an end. Sad, sad night, friends.

Nicole, Tess, and I still had another day, though, which we spent eating at this charming little pizzeria…

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where I had some amazing funghi pizza and Nicole finished off my cheese for me. But not before sprinkling parmesan on it…told you the girl loved her cheese.

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That afternoon, we wandered down Via Julia, which was absolutely charming and full of some of the most irresistibly perfect boutiques I have ever seen in my life. (We also visited a really beautiful synagogue to make up for our thwarted attempt to visit a Florentine synagogue, but pictures weren’t allowed, so I have no evidence. Sorrryyy!)

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We even made a little friend. 🙂

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We eventually made our way back to Trastevere, where we got drinks in a little wine bar and watched little kids run in and out as they trick-or-treated. Because oh yeah, it was Halloween!

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(Blurry but necessary.)

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(Girly drink.)

Our last dinner was at an adorable little restaurant. As with every meal this trip, the company was amazing, conversation was sparkling and full of laughter, and the food was impeccable. It was really, really rough to part ways afterwards. This trip was truly incredible.

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But you know what? I got to come home to this. I suppose life is fair, after all.

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meet me on the french riviera

…because I aim to return as soon as possible and never leave again. If someone could have my things and my dogs sent to Nice, I’d be eternally grateful.

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But seriously. The place is heaven.

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After an un-Godly 6 A.M. wake-up call last Friday, two friends and I made our way, eyes half open and in desperate need of caffeine, to the Gare de Lyon train station, where we promptly boarded our 7:46 train to Nice. I proceeded to spend the next five hours sleeping, reading (wait for it) Tender is the Night, and finally, as we drew closer to our destination, admiring the increasingly gorgeous views.

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Don’t mind the reflections and the dirty train window…you get the idea.

We arrived in Nice around 1:30 to deliciously warm weather and perfectly sunny skies. After grabbing a quick lunch and checking into our hostel, we made our way to–of course–the beach.

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The beaches in Nice are rocky, so it makes lounging a little trickier to do. But I’ll take any kind of beach, any time, any place. I happily spent the next few hours…well, sort of like I spent the first part of the day, now that I think about it. Reading, dozing, admiring the stunning views, and taking the occasional picture. I was in heaven. I never wanted to leave.

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The Van D’Go color ended up being a perfect choice, just as I’d anticipated. Never underestimate the power of a well-named polish.

The city of Nice itself had me at hello bonjour, too. It’s full of adorable streets and colorful old buildings that almost remind me of some of the beautiful old Floridian hotels. It really does feel like a beach town, and it takes full advantage of its location, with a wide walkway running along the crystal-clear ocean that I was absolutely dying to run on. Unfortunately, I intentionally left my running shoes at home due to an achy spot in my foot I was hoping a weekend of rest would take care of. It’s gone now, so I guess it was for the best, but still–I would have LOVED to have gone for a morning run there!

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Friday night we made our way to Vieux Ville (the charming “Old Town” part of Nice) for dinner where, lured by promises of free champagne, we chose a restaurant called CĂ´te Sud.

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Unfortunately, the “champagne” was some kind of flat, sickeningly sweet stuff. I mean, I drank it. Who do you think I am? I guess I can’t complain because it was, as promised, free. But the food made up for the lousy beverage. I split the pesto gnocchi and the grilled salmon steak with my friend, and it was so delicious and wonderful after days on end of meals in the dorm.

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Bleh.

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That’s more like it.

After dinner, we walked around Nice…

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and Vieux Ville a bit more. I loved every street of it. Vieux Ville feels what I imagine Italy would feel like (I don’t know because I’ve never been–BUT I’LL BE THERE IN TWO WEEKS), with lots of impossibly narrow but charming streets, warmly-colored buildings, clothing drying on the balconies, and plenty of noise and festivities all around.

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We ended up stumbling upon this amazing and elaborately decorated church. It sprung up out of nowhere and when I happened to glance into the open door, my jaw dropped. Unfortunately it was really dark and none of my pictures were turning out well, so you’ll have to take my word for it. Of course, I lit a candle.

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We ended up settling into a bar that had an English band playing live music. I knew we’d made a good choice when I realized the band was playing “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” as we walked it. And followed that with “Fire and Rain”. So my thing. I was all over it.

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After an uneasy night spent snuggling with my purse in our hostel dorm room (um, yeah, I am NOT cut out for hostel living, something I wish I could change about myself but will reluctantly accept…I’m more comfortable in a tent than I am in a creepy unclean room with creepy unclean people…okay I’m being dramatic, moving on…), we spent Saturday exploring Vieux Ville by the light of day a bit more. It was even more delightful and picturesque in the sunshine.

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We also made the trek up to the grounds of an old chateau, which boasts truly STUNNING views of Nice.

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Just imagine. You’re standing by a waterfall that’s making rainbows all over the place. There’s not a cloud in the sky, the Mediterranean is sparkling like diamonds below you as it slowly fades from turquoise blue near the shore to a rich navy by the horizon. The sun is shining. You can see all of Nice–the majestic old hotels, the red and gold (cardinal and straw?) Vieux Ville, the mountains gently nudging the whole array of it closer to the sea–and beyond, down la CĂ´te d’Azur to what feels like Antibes and Cannes and St. Tropez and all the way to Italy. There are flowers blooming all around you, you’re in France…is it so strange that I became convinced, at that moment, that I had died, gone to heaven, and thus would turn around and find the Kensington Whole Foods waiting for me? I think not.

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Proof of life photo for the Mamacita.

We made our way back down into the city and treated ourselves to some Fenocchio Glacier. Apparently this has been named the “best gelato in France” by numerous credible sources, so I of course had to try it out. They have over 150 flavors or something insane(ly wonderful) like that, so it took us forever and a half to choose. I eventually went with Vanilla Meringue and good old chocolate.

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The vanilla meringue was my favorite, because it was studded with huge chunks of actual meringue…be still my beating heart. The chocolate was rich and perfect and wonderful, and I wished with every bite that my sister was there to have some with me, because she would have loved it even more than I did–if that’s possible.

We spent the rest of the afternoon doing some more relaxing on the beach…

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…before tidying up and heading out for dinner. Our destination? Le Speakeasy, a tiny establishment run by a California expat that serves up VEGAN FOOD. I was 1000 kinds of excited.

I know, I know. I might be one of the few people that would desperately search for and happily pay any price for a giant plate of vegan goodness while in France. But luckily, my friends were of a similar mindset, and I got to gorge on this amazing FEAST of a meal:

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That would be quinoa with sauteed zucchini, tempeh, a Hugh Jass salad with creamy slices of avocado, summery-tasting tomatoes, and homemade black olives to boot. On top of all that, the owner, who cooked our meal to order, served it up with a side of wheat bread.

SHUT THE FRONT DOOR.

They don’t have wheat bread in this country. Okay, fine, they do, but it’s not all that plentiful, and frankly, while I’ll admit the white bread is unsurpassed, you can practically taste the French disdain for whole grains in every bite of the wheat bread I’ve had here so far. It tastes almost like cardboard and nothing like the soft, honey-sweetened loaves I buy at Greenlife all summer. This wheat bread was a nice change, and so, so welcome.

I even had a delicious little oatmeal apple tart for dessert. It was heavenly. My heart was turning backflips by the time I’d finished this meal. I know I’m in a country with one of the best culinary reputations in the whole world, but I have to be honest–sometimes I just miss my food. What’s that? You sort of got the feeling that was the case after my daily moaning and whining about the lack of organic peanut butter? How intuitive of you.

Sunday, we decided to mix things up and took a train to Antibes!

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Antibes is something of a yachting capital, so as we walked towards the old part of town, we were greeted with this view:

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Antibes itself was gorgeous and felt surprisingly different from Nice for a town that’s so close. It’s much smaller, though, and we were also there on a Sunday (France sort of shuts down on Sundays), so that makes sense. It felt much quieter and more quaint than Nice, and while I have not one single bad thing to say about Nice, it was a fun change. I don’t have anything bad to say about Antibes, either!

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The colors of the actual buildings in Antibes were more muted than in Nice. I liked this, though–it made the whole town seem sort of sun-bleached and frozen in time.

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The views around Antibes are incredibly beautiful. The mountains are even more apparent than they are in Nice, and a nearby fort (Fort CarrĂ©, built by Henry II in the 16h century) adds to the historical charm of the town. We spent most of the day wandering around, with a little bit of (sandy!) beach lounging thrown in there somewhere. I absolutely loved it here and was missing my whole family because I just KNEW they’d completely love it as much as I did. Some places just strike me as oh-so appropriate for family vacations…Antibes is one of them. (Totally weird, because obviously Antibes just isn’t a very likable place for most people.) Next summer, mes parents?

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And here’s a solo shot…you know, to encourage that family trip to Antibes. I’m a good daughter and took this picture for you, Mom and Dad.

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We celebrated the last night of our trip with Indian food (MAIS OUI…the Tess’s-Favorite-Foods Fest continues) before heading back to Nice…where we continued to celebrate (a.k.a. avoid returning to our hostel) with warm drinks. Which, surprisingly, came with this delightful (free!) plate of sugary delights…

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Don’t mind if I do.

We woke up and went pretty much straight to the train on Monday morning. I was sad to leave…but I mean, when you’re going back to Paris, life just isn’t that rough, is it? I was seriously smitten with the South of France (duh) and would happily return any time. It’s just one of those places that’s so uniquely beautiful you almost can’t believe it’s real.

Paris greeted me with open arms and newly chilly weather. I’ve come home the past two nights with rosy cheeks and a rosier nose. It’s that lovely fall temperature where you only need a light jacket, but scarves and boots are more than appropriate. I celebrated with a new plaid wool scarf (I just can’t get enough) and a blissfully chilly and blissfully foot-pain-free twelve-mile run yesterday. This is my first real fall since my senior year of high school, so I intend to soak it up. (The only problem I’ve found with New Orleans is that it skips the season of delightfulness that is fall…the joke is that the four seasons there are almost summer, summer, still summer, and Christmas.) The only thing that could make this October better is a pumpkin spice lattĂ©.

Oh yeah…and this little care package I had waiting for me upon my return.

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I love you, Mom. Sunbutter, my favorite peanut butter, Twizzler’s, candy corn (the kind with the little pumpkins!), Pretzel M&M’s, Annie’s mac & cheese, my very favorite Nature’s Path oatmeal, and a giant pile of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Larabars (if you haven’t had these, go buy this flavor and Blueberry Muffin STAT). What can I say, the woman knows me well….

Although I’d really appreciate it if you’d send the dogs now, thanks.

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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.