Tag Archives: way up high

walking in a winter wonderland

Alternately, this post could be called “Bruges”. Not last weekend but the one before, I took a trip to Bruges, Belgium. I was lured by promises of Christmas markets, chocolate, ice skating, beer, boat rides through the canals, and last but certainly not least, waffles. The city more than made good on these expectations–walking through the streets, I felt like I had been transported straight into one of those little Christmas villages you can buy to set up on your bookcase or coffee table or you know, wherever, at Christmastime. It was charming.

And, indeed, we had waffles.

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Weirdly, though, I discovered that I actuallydonotreallyliketrueBelgianstylewafflessosorryforgivemebye.

They were too crispy. I like my carbs doughy, what can I say….

I sampled plenty of chocolate, but more importantly, I saw this chocolate replica of Obama in the chocolate museum!

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To be totally honest, I wouldn’t have picked this out as Obama if it hadn’t been for the sign telling me it was. But it’s still awesome. Even cooler than the chocolate Titanic I saw in Berlin. And that’s saying something.

We spent lots of time wandering through the streets of the city,

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Bruges is actually known for its canals–I was told it’s called the Venice of the North? It certainly wasn’t as canal-ridden as Venice, but we still took advantage of the ones that were there with a canal cruise! This was a great way to see the city, but I was freezing by the end of it…a perfect excuse to go find some cute, cozy little restaurant and order a cup of tea. (Which probably happened four or five times over the course of the weekend. I can’t help it.)

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(I hope these pictures are giving you a sense of how ridiculously charmingly beautiful Bruges is…I couldn’t get over it.)

We saw some famous art, too. Here’s a Michelangelo altarpiece:

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Here’s what actually inspired me most in the church that housed it:

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Why yes, those are small dogs depicted lying at the feet of the dead queen. Does anyone know where I can order at tomb like this?

Of course, one of my very favorite things was seeing the Christmas decorations and lights all over the city. It was the perfect way to welcome December!

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(Got a little artsy on that last one, bet you weren’t expecting that! Things are getting crazy around here….)

It’s my blog, and I’ll fill it with amateur photographs of Christmas lights if I want to.

If there’s something I love more than Christmas lights, though, it’s food, so let’s get back to that. Because guess what I ate in Belgium? No really, guess. Just do it.

It involves these:

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And these:

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MOULES FRITES! I was so happy. So so happy. And in case you’re wondering, those frites were split shared by our table of eight. Just kidding, they were all mine.

No really, we shared them. Even I can’t down that many fries in one sitting.

I think.

Oh, funny story, though. After we left Beligium, my friends (who don’t eat meat except for fish, like me) and I found out that Belgian frites are fried in duck fat. Hehe, oopsie! Bad vegetarian. Pescetarian. Whatever. (I actually hate the word “pesectarian”, you automatically sound obnoxious when the words “I’m a pescetarian” come out of your mouth…I mean I am a pescetarian and I’m not sure there’s another food term that oozes more self-righteousness. Ick. Shudder.)

And Belgium wouldn’t be Belgium without any beer!

We went to this really cool, apparently well-known place called Bruges Beertje. It has hundreds of different beers or something completely insane like that. I really loved the atmosphere–it was very relaxed, and friendly, and there were all these cool old signs on the wall, and it just felt so perfectly and cozily Christmas. Yeah, I just made a beerhouse sound girly. Done and done.

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Bruges was the perfect place for a December weekend trip. It’s not somewhere that I really ever thought about going before I got to Europe, but I’m so, so glad I did. One of the best parts about Europe is that it’s hard to choose a wrong city to travel to, really. But Bruges is no exception!

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P.S. We were super fancy on the way home and ended up in first class…our train may or may not have been the Polar Express. It was.

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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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Florence

Florence. Florence was one of those cities that just feels right, almost immediately. Small enough that it’s not at all overwhelming, big enough that there’s a seemingly endless supply of beautiful things to do, see, and revel in.

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We arrived on a rainy afternoon. Everyone was feeling that bone-deep travel exhaustion–after all, at this point, we’d been in three cities and two countries in the previous 24 hours (give or take) and were feeling a little overexposed to the endless stream of planes, trains, water taxis, buses, and metros it had taken to pull off that particular feat. So, everyone else took advantage of the grey and sleepy afternoon to catch up on some much-deserved napping. I, on the other hand, turn into a too-excited-to-sleep little kid upon arrival in a new place and instead opted to spend some quality time in the hostel kitchen with a cappuccino, Nicole’s guide book, and a map of the city, plotting all the can’t-miss points. If I do say so myself, I think the resulting marked-up map ended up being very useful indeed. (I’m also going to take a moment to pimp out the aforementioned guide book–it’s a “Let’s Go” book and if you’re traveling, anywhere, at all, I highly recommend you get one. It never gave us bad advice, and it’s also hilarious. Except don’t get one if I know you and you’re going abroad in the spring, because then I won’t have anything to get you for Christmas.)

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That night we wandered, tentatively exploring the cobblestoned, colorful city we’d arrived in, charmed by the feeling that it was frozen in time and humbled by the knowledge of the countless incredible minds and souls that had walked the same streets centuries before us.

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We imagined Medicis gazing down at the Palazza della Signoria from the high windows of the Palazzo Vecchio…

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…and gazed in wonder at the dome Brunelleschi was somehow able to imagine against all odds, against history, against what architects and engineers had managed to achieve at that point. Do you know that Arnolfo di Cambio began the construction of the cathedral in the 13th century before anyone knew how to create a dome for it, acting on the faith that, by the time it was finished, someone would? He was right, of course–Brunelleschi came through for him in the 15th century and created what is still the largest masonry dome in the world. This whole story just baffles me and makes me feel like my imagination is a little lacking. (I know my engineering skills are.)

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One of the coolest parts of that first night by Santa Maria del Fiore was realizing that 20 years ago, give or take, my mom was walking around the very same building, probably feeling just as awestruck as my friends and I were a few weeks ago. Even cooler to me than knowing that Gaudi stood and stared at the Sagrada Familia or that Michelangelo himself touched the David is thinking about all the people I know and love who have stood before these incredible sights, exactly as I have, feeling something like I felt. Thousands of miles away from most of the people who occupy my thoughts, it makes me feel a little bit closer to home to know that I’m doing something they, too, found worthwhile at some point. This blog wouldn’t be me without a little bit of sap every now and then. 🙂

Just as important–if not more important–as our reveling in these amazing sights in Florence was our ardent devotion to–what else–the amazing food the city had to offer. That first night, we had an amazing introduction to the gelato of Italy when we stopped at Grom.

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What you’re looking at is heaven-sent nougat and coffee gelato (endorsed by the guy behind the counter as his favorite combination of flavors!). This met and then smashed to bits every expectation I had for Italian gelato. If the Duomo had me silently thanking God, this had me rousing a crowd in the streets to a foot-stamping, clapping, echoing rendition of the Hallelujah chorus. (I mean, not really, but in my mind, yes.)

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God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food.

Oh, and here’s a fun gelato fact for you: apparently, if gelato is piled high and brightly-colored, you don’t want it. That stuff is no good. Well, it’s probably delicious, to be fair, but delicious in a normal, American gelato way. Real gelato is mixed in the metal container it’s served in and “should look like poop”. So there you go. If it doesn’t look like poop, don’t eat it.

The great food adventure continued that night with an unforgettable meal at Trattoria Anita. Sorry for the dim lighting!

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This pasta…wow. This pasta is what made me realize that every time I don’t eat fresh pasta, I’m basically taking one of God’s greatest gifts (to continue with the religious theme) and throwing it back in his face. This pasta is the pasta that would allow me to run a marathon, qualify for Boston, and then just run another marathon right away just for fun. This pasta changed my life. This pasta is what caused me to send numerous frantic emails to my mother insisting that we purchase a pasta press, promising to cook endless supplies of fresh pasta if we purchase a pasta press, claiming that I’ll somehow earn millions of dollars and buy my parents a house in the South of France if only we can have a pasta press.

I’m pretty sure we’re getting a pasta press.

I’m pretty sure my parents still aren’t getting a house in the South of France. (I mean, never say never, but don’t hold your breath, Mom and Dad.)

This night pretty much set the tone for the rest of our Florence trip. Our days always started at the same adorable, perfect little breakfast place around the street from our hostel. Every morning, I had a cappuccino, yogurt, muesli, and fresh fruit. And every morning, without fail, it was delicious.

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Fruit that fresh and that perfectly cut makes my heart flutter. So does the adorable miniature silverware they gave us to eat it with. From there, we’d wander across the river, basking in the absolute beauty that is Florence in the morning (and any time of day, really…this picture was taken in the afternoon, full disclaimer).

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We wandered from place to place, delighted to find that Florence was every bit as inviting and manageable as we’d imagined on our first afternoon. Not only did we get to visit most of the city’s can’t-miss spots, they actually became a part of our daily landscape, as familiar and friendly as the kind woman who owned our little breakfast place.

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And the food–oh, the food. I’m not sure if our sightseeing was punctuated by breaks to eat or if our eating was punctuated by breaks to sightsee. Trattoria Anita turned out not to be an untouchable first experience (although we did love it enough to return there on our last night), but rather an indicator of the equally delicious and varied feast that was still to come.

At Sergio’s, which was recommended by my favorite leather vendor (Massimo–more on him later), I decided to truly take advantage of my location and enjoy some Tuscan specialties.

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This is ribollita soup. I know it doesn’t look like much–or, well, maybe it looks like something you don’t want to eat–but trust me, it’s amazing. “Ribollita” means “re-boiled”, I think, and I guess the original concept for the soup is that it’s basically a stew made from whatever food is just taking up room in the kitchen. People would just cook whatever vegetables they had around with broth and bread that was getting stale, and this was the result. My mom actually makes it at home, and twice last year after very long, cold runs, I gobbled down three or four bowls, no problem. It’s heaven.

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This is vin santo and biscotti. Vin santo is an Italian dessert wine, and from what I can tell, it’s always served with little almond biscotti. (At Sergio’s, they just brought us a giant basket…you can see the edge of it in this picture. SCORE. Um, yes, we ate it all.) Weirdly, the wine tasted more alcoholic once you dipped the biscotti in it than it did if you just sipped on it. I bet a science person could explain that to me. However, until that happens, have no idea why that is. It was a perfect, charming, authentic-feeling dessert.

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At Trattoria Le Mossacce (recommended by the guide book to end all guide books), I realized that I actually, contrary to what I’d always thought, love roasted potatoes…as long as they’re covered with a ridiculous amount of garlicky amazingness. And especially if they’ve been roasted to an ridiculously soft consistency. These potatoes in the picture are basically my dream potatoes. I couldn’t get enough of this particular side dish in Florence, and I suspect I will spend the rest of my life trying to make roasted potatoes that taste like Florentine roasted potatoes.

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At Mercato Centrale, I finally found my very favorite pasta–orecchiette! I used to ask for this all the time growing up, but it’s hard to find. It’s even harder to find freshly made and covered with pesto (my very favorite sauce). But Mercato Centrale came through for me, and I loved every delicious bite. Fun fact: “orecchiette” means “little ear”. So cute. As long as you don’t think about the potential cannibalistic implications, which I never have until I just typed that. So, yeah.

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Gelateria dei Neri might have ever-so-slightly beaten Grom as my favorite gelateria in Florence. It had a really cute, old-school feel (our unbeatable guide book said it was the local favorite), and if the ricotta and fig (yup, you read that correctly, changed my life, I’ll never love again) gelato wasn’t enough to win me over (it was), the absolutely divine tiramisu semifreddo I paired it with certainly would have done the trick (no need, but I definitely appreciated the effort…amazing). (Parentheses are my favorite.) Also, this place earned some bonus points for being decorated with pictures of Gelateria dei Neri cups all around the world–I should have taken mine back to Paris with me! They already had one of the Eiffel Tower, so I guess I would have gone with the next best thing and put it next to a pissoir.

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We returned to Trattoria Anita for our last meal, albeit somewhat guiltily. We all felt like we should be trying as many different places as possible, but Trattoria Anita was just so good. Luckily, it wasn’t too much of a repetition, because they had already completely changed their menu when we went for the second time! (You know a place is authentic when….) We split that amazing asparagus side dish, and I don’t think I’ll ever eat asparagus not covered in parmesan again. And then I had tagliatelle with mushrooms. It was incredible. The mushrooms were like…butter. But more flavorful. I died.

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Oh, and I think it goes without saying that we loved the delightfully bubbly prosecco and giant multi-liter jugs of Italian wine everywhere we went. 😉

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the leather market. It was a pretty big part of our Florence trip, I have to say. Somehow, I ended up with no pictures of the place…probably because I was too busy frantically tracking down deals on scarves, gloves, bags, and, of course, the perfect jacket. My story was almost a sad one. It all started with a recommendation from my friend Emily (who’s in Paris with me and went to Florence a few weeks before I did) to go to Massimo’s for a jacket. Not really knowing what I was dealing with, I was happy to have a recommendation to go off of. Massimo immediately impressed us with his lunch recommendation (Sergio’s, home of my first Tuscan ribollita). We returned after lunch, and I had every intention of buying a jacket. Well, I tried on several, and I liked lots of them, but none of them were quite what I was looking for. Until I found the one. It was perfect. The right color, the right style, the right feel. I felt like I imagine a woman feels like after finding the perfect wedding dress. All my friends agreed: it was perfect! Why even look anywhere else?! The only problem? It wasn’t quite the right size. At first, that didn’t seem to be much of a problem at all–the friendly and helpful man working in the store assured me that I could custom order one and it would be sent to Paris. Once he began talking with Massimo, though, it became clear that that wasn’t going to work out. I guess the particular leather I had fallen in love with wasn’t in stock anymore, so they couldn’t make the same jacket. They had similar colors, but they weren’t quite right. Here’s why Massimo is the best. It would have been so easy for him to have had a jacket made in a near-identical color and then shipped it off to Paris, where I would have been stuck with a not quite right jacket for the rest of my life, way too many euros poorer. But he didn’t. And this is in a sea of vendors who were pulling things like trying to sell us jackets that were made for children and displaying bags with fraying seams.

So, if you skipped that long paragraph, I don’t blame you one bit. Just pay attention to this part: if you end up in Florence and want to buy something leather, go to Massimo. He’s honest, kind, and he won’t rip you off.

I know you all were on the edge of your seats wondering, so wonder no more: I did end up with a leather jacket. It looked like a no-go…I thought I was ruined for all other jackets after the perfect one fell into my hands and then was ripped away. But after a sad period of following Heather around the leather market looking like a kicked puppy, I found it. And I love it. I think maybe I was meant to find my real jacket but had to go through the pain of losing the first one to really appreciate it. Which goes to show you that…good things fall apart so that better things can fall together…and…better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all (but then love again)….and…every other cliche I made my AIM status in 7th grade…they’re all true.

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So glad we found each other, jacket. It was fate. And if it doesn’t work out for some reason (like you get stolen in a ghetto European airport or someone spills Natty Light all over you at the Palms, God forbid)…we’ll always have Florence.

We also made some time for a little art while we were in Florence, and visited a few museums, my favorite of which was the Gucci Museo. Yes, it’s real, and it was wonderful, and my favorite museum I’ve been to in Europe, and no I’m not kidding, and you should really just go, even if you think you’re above it, or you’re not into fashion, or you’d rather do something else, or you live in the middle of the Pacific (because I totally have thousands of international readers) and think I’m joking when I say it would be worth it to pay for a plane ticket to Florence just to see this museum. I’m not. Go.

Pictures weren’t allowed, so this, and my word, will have to suffice.

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We also did something a little more traditional and stopped by the Accademia to see–what else–Michelangelo’s David. I don’t have pictures of the actual statue, but I do have pictures of the wall outside the museum (where we waited in line for an hour, give or take). And a story to go along with them.

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The wall was covered in graffiti. Covered. People were just inspired by their proximity to a famous work of art, I guess, and their inner Michelangelo took over.

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Hey look, my mom’s name!

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And some people said disgustingly syrupy sweet things. If I ever write or say anything like this, ever, someone, please, lobotomize me.

Anyway, I decided that I wanted to leave something of myself behind on the wall, too. So, representing the whole group, I proudly penned a little “XΩ” as high up as I could reach.

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You can kind of see it next to that sign. Anyway, as soon as I was done with my little graffiti project, I took it upon myself to read the sign. Which informed me the area was under video surveillance and it’s illegal to make marks on the “historic site” we were standing in front of. Well, damn.

Ever calm under pressure, I completely flipped out. It got even worse when I saw a man in a very official-looking government uniform getting off his moped just across the street, looking very solemn. My heart was pounding. I was trying to decide if I could outrun him in my ballet flats. I was going to spend the next four years of my life in an Italian prison, just like Amanda Knox! What had I done?!!?

At some point, it became clear to my highly amused friends that what was surely a terrifying police officer approaching me with handcuffs was actually…a mailman. So, yeah. That was really embarrassing, considering I had a full scale freakout in front of not only my friends but everyone in line. That just goes to show that I wasn’t made to break rules. Ever. (When I was a toddler, my mom could put me on a blanket and tell me to stay there. If I so much as set a finger off of the blanket, all she would have to do is sternly say “Tessa” and I would go crawling back to the middle of the blanket, where I would no doubt resolve to remain indefinitely. Not much has changed, apparently.) I lost some pride that day…but not enough to stop me from hiding out in the leather shop across the street until it was our turn to go into the museum.

The David was cool. Very cool. Larger than I expected. Symbol of Florentine pride. Cool that Michelangelo touched it. Very cool. Cool. Neat-o. Awesome. This has been a really long blog post, y’all. Sorrier for you than I am for myself. I think what I’ll remember the most, though, is the two prim-looking ladies about my grandmother’s age sitting next to my friend Tess and I. (Oh yeah, Tess met us in Florence! Nicole started calling the two of us “the Tessi”. Everyone say hi to Tess! She’s the blonde one on the left.)

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Anyway, we were sitting behind the statue. (Warning, blog’s about to get a little PG-13, things are getting cR@zY!!!) Tess observed that David had a nice butt. I was about to quietly agree when the proper-looking ladies next to us did it for me, except loudly, for the whole world to hear. So that gave us all a good giggle. But things got even funnier as we continued to listen in on the women’s conversation: “It’s too bad, really. Big shoulders…big hands…big feet…big disappointment.”

Hilarious. (I would say it would be like hearing your grandmother say that, but honestly, my grandmother saying that wouldn’t surprise me one bit. Love you, Amma.) It wasn’t until we left the museum that I was really able to get it together after that one. Sorry, maturity, it was fun hanging out for a little bit, but I don’t think things are looking good for us long-term….

I’ll end on a slightly more serious note. (And then, I promise, I’m done…this has been an epic post. I really loved Florence, what can I say.) Onwards, to the Piazzale Michelangelo. I had the pleasure of unknowingly stumbling upon this popular tourist spot while I was running one morning. I was running along the river, saw a path leading up, figured up would lead to views, and followed the path without hesitation. Which turned out to rank prominently on my list of “Best Decisions Ever”, because the view that resulted is one I’ll never forget, ever, for as long as I live. (This blog is my Notebook…read this, and I’ll come back to you.) (If you don’t catch that reference, maybe we shouldn’t be friends.) I don’t think I could pick a favorite moment from my Italy trip, because honestly, the trip was nothing if not a string of impossibly perfect and completely unforgettable moments. But I have to say, there was something very special about that morning at the Piazzale Michelangelo. The tourists hadn’t really arrived yet, so I felt alone on top of the world, free to take in Florence in all of its splendor, bathed in the light of a new day, dappled in that fresh, clean way that seems to only result from morning shadows. It was just cold enough to be refreshing, I felt fully awake and invigorated from my run, and life just felt so perfect in that moment I almost wished I could stop time. But of course, that’s silly. So instead, that night, I took my friends back just in time to watch the sunset.

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Florence, you’re magical.

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 Côte 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 Côte 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 Carré, 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 latté.

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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making everybody look like ants

You might remember that I was given the advice to get up as high as possible above any city I visited to see the view. I think I did a good job following this advice this past weekend…

My first stop was at the Centre Pompidou, a modern art museum located in what I understand to be the charming Beaubourg district (in the 4e arrondissement). Narrow cobblestone streets wound around the museum, studded with everything from darling boutiques to bubble tea shops to gelaterias to picturesque cafes. The museum itself was situated on a giant square where people sat having picnics, enjoying the weather, selling jewelry, and strumming on guitars. I absolutely loved the atmosphere of this area. Granted, we were there on a Friday night, so it felt particularly lively and inviting, but still, I can’t wait to go back and explore some more.

The museum exterior was pretty interesting…

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Giant hamster cage?

But the real treat was found on the roof of the museum, which boasted a stunning view of Paris in almost every direction.

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Disclaimer: The last two were actually from balconies on other floors of the museum. But I thought the view was still pretty stunning.

My first week in Paris has been glorious, but I’d be lying if I said it’s been without difficulties. I underestimated just how much harder everything would be in a foreign country. I don’t mean to complain…everything has been about 99.99% perfect, and I know I’m very lucky to be here. Already, the past two weeks have been among the very best of my life. I just want to clarify that in between the culture shock, the language barrier, and the jumping through endless hoops of French bureaucracy, life here hasn’t always (just usually :)) been quite as idyllic as…well, as idyllic as living in France for four months sounds.

The reason I clarify this is because standing on the roof of the museum, all the difficulties fell away. The city looked so peaceful and regal and arrestingly beautiful spread out before me. From up above, you can’t see the occasional disdainful Parisian, the endless piles of paperwork, or the metro card that just won’t work. So much of the Paris in my mind this week has been Paris, the place where I’m negotiating a strange new life, where I’m tripping over my bad French, where I’m lost again, where I just can’t figure things out. When I took a step back (or rather, a step up), I could finally see Paris as it really is. Paris in its entirety. Paris the city. The worldwide travel destination, the most visited city in the world. The near utopia where each building and monument is more beautiful than the last, where parks overflow with vivid flowers and laughing children, where bread is bountiful and wine flows freely. Paris in its essence. Paris at its best. Paris as I will love it and remember it forever in my heart.

Anyway, all this is to say that my mom gives good advice. Whenever you travel, go up high and drink in the view. You’ll love the city even more because of it.

In fact, I loved it so much that I did it again on Saturday! This time, though, we headed to Montmartre, the district at the edge of Paris that famously plays home to Moulin Rouge, Sacre Coeur, and, most importantly, the view from the steps of Sacre Coeur.

Let me start by saying that I would have loved Montmartre even without the view. If you go to Paris, it is absolutely imperative that you visit this area. I loved it because it had all the same qualities I loved in the Beaubourg district, but magnified. All of the streets were winding, hilly, and paved with cobblestone. People overflowed from the charming cafes, spilling onto the narrow sidewalks as they ate, talked, drank, and laughed. Artists sold their work in a square that boasted several outdoor cafes of its own. It felt very European and very enchanting–almost quaint compared the rest of Paris. I was instantly smitten.

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We wandered around for a bit, got crepes (Nutella et banane has quickly become my favorite crepe flavor–no surprises there), and then began the trek up many a staircase and hill to Sacre Coeur.

Oh my goodness.

I’d consider myself to be in pretty good shape. I run like I breathe and can barely go a day without breaking a sweat before I start feeling like I’m itching in my own skin. So, maybe my legs were just a different kind of tired after a week of walking daily marathons in inadequate ballet flats. Maybe I was dehydrated. Maybe I needed sleep. Maybe all the crepes are getting to me. But…I’m pretty sure my calves caught on fire on the way up.

Seriously. At the top of each new climb, I was sorely tempted to turn around, snap a picture of the view, then throw myself onto the back of a passing stranger while waving euros in their face and begging them to take me to my seat on the metro. Or at least to a cafe where I could order a Panaché (my new favorite sightseeing drink, a combination of beer and lemonade that sounds foul but tastes ten kinds of refreshing or at least satisfying after spending all day on your feet). Luckily, we persevered.

It was completely worth it.

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These photographs do the view about .001% of the justice it deserves. Sorry, friends. I tried.

After taking in the view for a bit (if I’m completely honest, I should say, “After standing around with my mouth gaping open in wonder, half-heartedly attempting the occasional picture…”) I actually got to walk around the church, which was really incredible. I know I’ve used the word “breathtaking” a lot on this blog, but I’ve meant it every time. That’s Europe for you. Sacre Coeur is certainly worthy of the description, what with its towering domed ceilings, intricate stained glass windows, dozens of statues and altars (there’s an art history term for those little side altars that I should definitely know…), and touching display of lit candles left by visitors. Pictures weren’t allowed, which I was bummed about at first, but the more I walked around, the more I realized it was for the best. I don’t mean to taunt, but something as magnificent as Sacre Coeur really cannot be captured in a photograph, even by someone with exceptional skill. (My very amateur skills were going to get me nowhere.) There’s just no way to fit that kind of splendor into one image–it really has to be experienced in person. I did, however, snap one illegal photo right before leaving.

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Rebel, rebel.

I always light a candle when I visit a church that offers them. I’m not sure, but I think it’s a Catholic thing. I’m not Catholic, but my mother comes from a Catholic family, and my Catholic grandmother (who now goes to an Episcopal church–so proud, Amma! Isn’t it nice over here with the other Catholic Lites?) always urged her to light a candle when given the opportunity. My mom did the same to me, as did my grandmother, so now I always have two voices in my head imploring me to light a candle when I enter a large church. So, here are my two candles, illicitly photographed. One for my mom, one for Amma. As requested.

(Sidenote: I think it might be more customary to light a candle for someone who sort of needs the extra prayers, but I’m happy to report that my mother and grandmother are both happily alive and well. But I guess everyone could use a little extra attention from some higher powers, right?)

I actually really love lighting the candles. It’s very cathartic, and it’s nice to think of candles burning for the ones you love in a beautiful church thousands of miles away from them. It’s a fun tradition to have when you travel, as well, especially to somewhere like Europe that’s so full of beautiful old churches. Totally worth paying the “suggested” 2 euro offering for. (The angry-looking guard nearby seemed to think it was a lot more than “suggested”, if you ask me.)

After leaving the church, my roommate and I relaxed on a grassy hill near the basilica, enjoying the perfect view, the perfect light, the perfect weather, and the perfect city. Someone nearby was playing a guitar, and I honestly think I could have just stayed there forever. We both agreed that we didn’t ever want to leave. Who would?

Reluctantly, though, we wandered back down into Montmartre to explore a bit more before even more reluctantly boarding the metro to return home. (God, it’s such a pain when you have to leave one beautiful part of Paris to go to another beautiful part of Paris. My life is so rough. Send help. In the form of Annie’s microwavable mac & cheese and Lindt sea salt dark chocolate, please.)

It’s not too sad, though…we’ll go back. In fact, I already have…but that’s another post for another day. 🙂

Sending you much love & light from La Ville-Lumière!

Tess

P.S. I also paid the obligatory visit to Moulin Rouge while in Montmartre. Listen closely: this is a sight worth seeing once and exactly once in your life. Actually, I take that back. Just Google it. We’ll have had comparable experiences. Actually, that’s not true. Yours will be better, because you didn’t have to embarrass yourself by fighting your way through a group of overeager tourists to take a picture, smell the homeless guy on the ground, or make yourself feel generally dirty because you left the cute, charming part of Montmartre and ventured into the gross red light district part, where every other place on the street is named (no joke, literally, apparently Parisians don’t have much imagination in this department) “Sex Shop”. Actually, there was the occasional “Chicken Bucket”…and a few other shops whose names are not blog-appropriate.

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I did it all for this. The picture you all have seen approximately 757 times before. Remind me why I thought this was necessary?

P.P.S. Bonus points if you know the song I stole the post title from!