Londres // London [Part 1]

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Day 1: Travel · Check-in · Explore

I flew from Nice to London Gatwick on British Airways and had a great experience. The staff was friendly and the complimentary lunch on board was good as well.

At Gatwick I reunited with my friend Karol after nearly a year apart and we made our way to the train we had pre-purchased tickets for. The Thameslink is a fast and easy way to get from the airport to a more central point in London. We took the Bedford line from Gatwick to Blackfriars Station. I would recommend using trains, trams, and metros as opposed to taxis; they provide a cheaper and more authentic experience.

 

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We stayed in the Southwark neighborhood. I had asked a London native which areas were the best to stay in, but ultimately based my decision on Airbnb reviews and availability. [Source:Google Maps]
From the  train station we made our way to our Airbnb – just about a twenty minute walk with luggage. We booked a room in an apartment with a couple – an American woman and Italian man, very close in age to ourselves. They had great reviews and the location and price couldn’t be beat. We scheduled it with the hosts to drop off bags, even though the room was not supposed to be ready until later in the evening. People are usually willing to work with you if you give them enough advance notice. Booking an Airbnb where the owners live in may seem daunting at first but can really be a great experience. As long as you do your research and read the reviews you can end up with an amazing place to stay. First-hand advice from locals and a cozy space to come home to at night are just a few of the benefits. For ourselves in particular, it was nice to have a fellow American and ex-pat, as well as a native Italian. We were able to bond over the differences between the States and Europe, and at the same time got countless tips and suggestions for our upcoming travels in Italy.

After dropping off our bags at the Airbnb we began site-seeing, with the intention of visiting the London Bridge, Tower Bridge, Tower of London (£), Monument to the Great Fire, St. Paul’s Cathedral, One New Change rooftop, Shakespeare’s Globe, and the Tate Modern.

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Don’t forget to check out the view from the roof top of the One New Change building! You can see the Londone Eye peeking out between two buildings in the distance. 
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I can’t say I was surprised London welcomed us with rain. 

The day ended back at the Airbnb getting acquainted with Jocelyn and Andrea over a dinner of homemade lasagna and pistachio gelato from the shop Andrea works at.

The first day was overwhelming – exciting, stressful, hectic, busy, wonderful. Visiting a new city is a whirlwind and day one in London did not disappoint.

Travel tip: Remember to pack light when possible. More often than not you’ll be carrying your bags up and down several flights of stairs.

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I am, in fact, not dead…

After nearly a year long hiatus I am making my return to blogging. My blog’s identity is a bit up in the air right now as I’m no longer abroad, but I’m confident that it’ll grow and evolve naturally as I get back into the swing of things. I spent last May travelling after my TAPIF contract ended, and I’m finally ready to share my insights and experiences with you!

How do you prepare for a city you’ve never visited before? For myself it always starts with lists: a packing list and a to-do list. I was a notorious over-packer before living in Europe (though some friends would say I still am). I feel like I’ve made great strides in limiting myself.

The tricky part about this packing list was that I had to pack for three different cities in two different countries: London, Rome, and Venice. Obsessively checking the weather and reading other blog posts definitely helped.

IMAG5805 (2)Luckily my French phone plan allowed me data and calling in most countries around Europe so I wasn’t too concerned about having every little thing written down, but I do always like to have a paper copy of my itinerary and travel information. I always plan out my routes from airport/train station/bus to hotel/Airbnb ahead of time, and have it written down as well as in my phone just in case.

Despite my fascination with maps, I’m not usually one to carry a map around a city. This time around though I purchased waterproof maps – one for each city. Neither myself nor my travelling companion, Karol, speak Italian so having maps on hand seemed like a good idea.

I had never created such a meticulous travel itinerary before, but wanted to fit as much in as possible, taking into consideration what both Karol and I were interested in seeing. I started with a list of the places/monuments/sites I wanted to see in each location. I took the advice of friends who had been to London, Rome, and Venice into consideration as well. It always helps to have multiple opinions on a city; everyone sees places differently.

Next, get out your map and find out which places on your list are closest to each other. Leave wiggle room – the weather might change, you might end up stumbling across something that was never on your list. Exploring aimlessly can be an incredible experience. Do what’s right for you – cross things off your list you don’t think you’ll have time for, don’t cross anything off your list just in case. I tried to plan a logical daily schedule for us. Stay tuned to find out how successful I was!

Weekend Coffee Share: 7/23/2016

If we were sitting down over a cup of coffee you’d see me drinking my Tim Hortons coffee out of my Starbucks mug, while eating peanut butter chocolate chip pancakes. A very American breakfast.

Of course I would offer you some; whatever you would like. I’d tell you that I’m getting ready to go on vacation in a few days. I’m headed to Madeira Beach, Florida; a small beach town on the Gulf of Mexico. I leave Tuesday, but I’m nowhere near being packed yet. Nearly all of the things I want to take with me have made their way to a single chair in the living room though, so that’s a start right?

In my defense I have other things on my mind right now. I’ll tell you that I went to a birthday party for my friend’s son last night. He turned 3! She is one of very few people from my middle school/high school days that I am still friends with, and I am grateful for it. I had a great time at their house as usual. It’s always nice to spend time in good company. The days and months since I’ve gotten back from France have flown by, and even though I’ve been making an effort to catch up with everyone I missed while I was gone, I still feel like I haven’t spent nearly enough time with friends. I guess we’ll always feel that way though.

The other thing on my mind is what book I’m going buy for my vacation! Anyone who knows me will tell you that I absolutely love to read. As a kid, during the summer, I would go to the library and check out the maximum 7 books. After devouring them in no time, I’d be back at the library picking out more. While I don’t have nearly as much time to read now, I still try to do so as often as I can. For those of you who have Amazon Prime, and a Kindle, did you know you’re eligible for a Kindle first free book every month? Each month I get an email with a small selection of next month’s releases, and get to choose one to send to my Kindle for free. I try to be a good reader, not just judging the books by the images of their covers in the email, yet every time I read the descriptions of each book I end up torn between two. It’s hard to choose just one! The decision has been made though, and this time around I chose Midair by Kody Scheer. A novel about four girls’ suspenseful trip to Paris. Fitting right?

Finally I’d ask you about some of the great books you’ve read lately. What are they? I’m always on the lookout for new material! Until next time ..

Sieu Nissa

After 8 months living in Nice the city became my second home. Every day I think about the day I’ll return. Today I think about how I walked the Promenade nearly every day – going for a run, heading to the beach, people watching or reading while sitting on one of the famous blue chairs, waiting for the bus on my way to work.

My thoughts are with all of my friends, colleagues, students, and the people of Nice – courage !

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Paris au printemps // Paris in the springtime [Part 5]

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Day 3: Passy, Seine walk, Eiffel Tower, Champ de Mars, Place des Vosges, Place de la Bastille.

We started day 3 in Passy, a neighborhood in the 16th arrondissement. After meeting up with our friend Alex, Ted gave us a tour of his former stomping grounds. Passy is a generally wealthy neighborhood with notable residences. Yet you can also find parks, shopping, museums, and the Cimetière de Passy which is the final resting place of Debussy and Manet to name a few.

After a leisurely walk through the streets of Passy, we stopped at Monoprix to stock up for a picnic lunch on the Champ de Mars. Next stop: Tour Eiffel!

Along the way we walked the Pont de Grenelle to see a replica Statue of Liberty. The Statue of Liberty was crafted by Bartholdi and gifted to the United States. The replica statue is on the Île aux Cygnes (Swan island), facing west toward the statue in New York.

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From there we walked along the Seine to the Pont de Bir Hakeim, where we walked through the Viaduc de Passy to get a view of the Eiffel Tower from across the Seine. Views of the Tower from various vantage points are a must during your first visit to Paris.

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Another stroll along the Seine finally brought us to the Eiffel Tower. Looking up while walking under the tower was a great experience after years of seeing photos from every possible angle.

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After a lunch surrounded by others with the same idea in mind, we walked further along the Champ de Mars to get a better few of the Tower straight on. Once we were satisfied with the view our photoshoot began.

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Having crossed off the major sites on our collective to-do list, we spent our afternoon catching up on things we had missed in the last few days: more shopping at Galeries Lafayette, Place des Vosges, crêpes on the Seine, and Place de la Bastille accompanied by a bit of rain.

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Our view of Notre Dame while eating crêpes

Place des Vosges was one of the first items on my list from the start. Interestingly enough Ted and Alex had never been there despite living in and visiting Paris several times, so it was an adventure for the three of us. I can easily say I would spend a significant amount of time there if I lived in Paris.

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It was clear the rain was coming so we made a quick trip to Place de la Bastille, the square where the former Bastille fortress once stood. Today you can see Le Colonne de Juillet (the July Column) standing in the center of the square. Such an important place in Parisian history is a must see when visiting Paris.

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The next morning we sent Ted off to the airport for his journey back to the States, then Alex and I enjoyed a casual lunch at a kebab restaurant on Boulevard des Batignolles between Rome and Villiers Métro stops. We had chicken shawarma wraps while sitting outside at a table conveniently placed in front of the desserts in the window. The owner must have spotted me staring longingly at the baklava because he brought out a piece for each of us for dessert. Unfortunately no amount of searching has lead me to remember the name of the place, but it may be Le Savoureux. From there we headed to the train station where I began my long journey back to Nice.

I had an amazing trip to Paris – everything I could have hoped for. My short time there sparked a desire to return to Paris as soon as possible. There is still so much to learn and explore. See you next time Paris!

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Check out Ted’s vlog from our time in Paris:

Paris au printemps // Paris in the springtime [Part 4]

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Day 2 Part 2: Musée du Louvre, Pont des Arts, La Comédie Française, Place Vendôme, L’église de la Madeleine, Ladurée, Le Marais, Hôtel de Ville, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, Quartier Latin, Jardin du Luxembourg.

From the Tuileries we made our way to the Louvre. I had decided well ahead of time that we would just walk around the outside of the Louvre. I enjoy museums and look forward to spending several days actually walking around in the Louvre in the future, but we just didn’t have the time to do so during this trip.

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I opted to forego the typical poses in front of the pyramid, and after a few minutes we were off to walk the courtyards. From there we headed to the Pont des Arts, better known as the Love Locks Bridge. Unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to walk the bridge before all of the locks were removed. The remodel was designed to prevent locks from being put on the bridge, yet a few crafty couples managed to leave their locks anyway.

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We walked past La Comédie Française on our way to Place Vendôme, another site on my list. I bravely (or stupidly) made my way out into the roundabout to snap a photo of the Colonne (column) Vendôme.

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Up next was something I had been waiting to do for seven months; our visit to Ladurée. Say what you will about clichés – I refused to buy macarons in France until I had the chance to get them from the best! Thankfully the shop is open on Sundays. If it hadn’t been, I guarantee we would have been back the very next day. Ted talked me out of buying a 35€ keychain (thank you!), but I did walk out with a box of six macarons.

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Just up the road from Ladurée is the Madeleine. This church is styled architecturally after a Greek temple, complete with pediment and columns. We were lucky enough to visit while the orchestra was practicing. The church was all the more beautiful as a result of the music playing while we walked around.

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From the Madeleine we headed to the Jewish quarter in Le Marais for a late lunch at Ted’s favorite falafel place: L’As du Fallafel. He isn’t the only one raving about the falafel either. L’As du Fallafel is hands down everybody’s favorite in Paris, myself included.  The line ran the length of the street, but was so worth it. I’ll be craving this Middle Eastern specialty for years to come.

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After a filling meal, we continued on our tour of the city, walking past the Hôtel de Ville on our way to the Notre Dame.

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A walk across the Seine and past countless street performers brought us to the Notre Dame, where we waited in line for a short while before entering the cathedral.

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Touching the bronze compass at the point zéro is a must if you hope to return to Paris someday.

 

From here we made our way through the nearby Latin Quarter. This area has been known as being attractive to younger crowds, particularly students, for years.

Located in the Latin Quarter is Shakespeare and Company, a must see for book lovers like myself.

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After a stroll through the Latin Quarter we headed to the Jardin du Luxembourg, where I enjoyed my macarons in the warmth of the afternoon sun. As expected, the gardens were packed, making our search for open seats a bit difficult. We prevailed in the end though, finding the perfect spot to rest our aching feet.

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L to R: rose, fruits rouges/red fruit, thé Marie-Antoinette/Marie-Antoinette tea, pistache/pistachio, citron/lemon, vanille/vanilla

We finally headed back to our Airbnb for a brief rest, only to go out again just after nine to see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. We took the Métro to the Trocadero and emerged surrounded by tourists, all with the same idea in mind.  The tour buses coupled with construction on the Trocadero, people selling toys everywhere, and a live band added a kitschy element to the magical atmosphere. I loved seeing the light show all the same. Watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night is like a dream come to life.

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I can’t thank Ted enough for playing tourist with me as I experienced all of this for the first time. Up next: Alex joins us for Day 3!

Paris au printemps // Paris in the springtime [Part 3]

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Day 2 Part 1: Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Elysées, Grand Palais, Petit Palais, Pont Alexandre III, Place de la Concorde, Jardin des Tuileries.

Day 2 in Paris began bright and early. It was finally sunny after the previous day of rain. We had a jam packed day ahead of us, and yet our options were somewhat limited because of the fact that it was a Sunday during a holiday weekend. Stop #1: Arc de Triomphe followed by a stroll along the Champs-Elysées.

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We weren’t able to go up to the top of the Arc (pesky Sundays), and the majority of the shops along the Champs were closed, but this actually worked out in our favor. There was no risk of spending countless hours, nor euros, shopping instead of exploring!

Our next stop was a walk past the Grand and Petit Palais on our way to Pont Alexandre III. The Grand Palais plays home to the National Galleries and the Petit Palais is home to the Beaux Arts museum. Both are located where the Champs-Elysées meets Avenue Winston Churchill.

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We continued along Av. Winston Churchill to Pont Alexandre III, where I caught my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower! The Tower was in view for the first time since we had arrived in Paris, and I had no idea. Ted had some fun recording my reaction as he pointed it out to me.

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Alexandre III is Ted’s favorite bridge in Paris and it’s easy to see why. Two different couples were having wedding photos taken on the bridge while we were there.

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After a mini photo shoot of our own, we headed off to the Tuileries. We walked through Place de la Concorde and stopped to admire the Luxor Obelisk on the way. As a lover of Egyptian history, I was thrilled to see the obelisk.

Upon entering the Tuileries, we strolled through the gardens, and stopped for a rest and an afternoon snack by the fountain. We clearly weren’t the only ones excited to enjoy a sunny, relaxing afternoon after the last few days of rain.

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We had an incredibly busy morning and our day wasn’t even close to being over. Up next: the second half of Day 2.

Paris au printemps // Paris in the springtime [Part 2]

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After settling in, and drying off, at our Airbnb in the 17th, we set out to explore Paris, not wanting to miss out on a single moment.

Side note: Before we got started on our sightseeing, we stopped at the Monoprix around the corner from our apartment to pick up some snacks, breakfast food, and something to cook for dinner our first night. One of the best things about renting through Airbnb, in my opinion, is the ability to find a place that allows you to cook some meals. I love eating out, but not three meals a day. Unfortunately, cooking pasta on a hot plate in a Paris studio wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be.

Our Day 1 Itinerary included Montmartre/Sacré Coeur, Moulin Rouge, Boulevard Haussmann, Galeries Lafayette, and the Opéra (Palais Garnier). We managed to get to all of these, mostly on foot, allowing us to enjoy the city at a leisurely pace.

We took the Métro from Villiers to Lamarck. The best option for visitors using the Métro is to buy a carnet – 10 tickets for just over 14€. After exiting the Métro, we made our way through Montmartre, past the tourist shops and street artists, to Sacré Coeur.

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The inside of the Basilica was, of course, beautiful as expected. The sprawling views of the city from the steps leading up to Sacré Coeur didn’t disappoint either. Thankfully Ted put up with my touristy desires and took my photo, no questions asked, every step of the way.

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From Sacré Coeur we made our way to the infamous Moulin Rouge. I had thankfully been warned that the famed site was a bit underwhelming. Despite this fact I’m happy that I saw it, and would only advise skipping it if you absolutely do not have the time.

After seeing the Moulin Rouge we made our way toward Galeries Lafayette and Palais Garnier. Admiring Boulevard Haussmann from different vantage points was appealing to me as I studied urban planning in graduate school.

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Visiting the grandest Galeries Lafayette was high up on my list. Living in Nice I had a Galeries just a short walk from my apartment. Yet Nice’s store is nowhere near as large, impressive, or beautiful as the one in Paris. I would love to go back in December sometime to see their holiday display.

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For our last stop of the evening, we made our way to Palais Garnier. While we didn’t get the opportunity to go inside, we did admire the beauty of the buildings façade. A look around the inside is yet another thing to add to the list for next time.

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Up next: Day 2 in Paris

Paris au printemps // Paris in the springtime [Part 1]

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After 7 months in France I finally made it to Paris! I knew I couldn’t leave the country without at least one visit to the City of Light. Thus, I planned to head up to Paris with a few friends at the end of April. Our TAPIF contracts officially ended on April 30th. Many assistants began heading back home around the end of April and beginning of May. My friend Ted had a flight out of Paris back to the States early in May, so we packed up and headed to Paris for his last weekend in France.

In addition to this being my first time in Paris, it was also my first time on a TGV! High speed trains are amazing; especially after 7 months of slow, uncomfortable TER trains full of kids blasting music from their phones. Don’t get me wrong, the TER trains were great as well. Coming from Michigan where everything has been developed with the automobile in mind, reliable (to a point), convenient, easy, cheap public transit was a dream I never wanted to wake up from.

We took the train from Nice to Paris Gare de Lyon on Saturday April 30th. After our train pulled in, we hopped on the metro only to emerge to pouring rain. Finding our Airbnb in the rain wasn’t pleasant. Lugging suitcases up the spiral staircase to the third floor wasn’t much fun either, but we were in Paris; what else did we expect? Once we were in and settled we were able to enjoy the trip.

Our Airbnb was in Batignolles in the 17th, a quiet and bohemian neighborhood categorized by families and hipsters, according to the listing. We found this assessment to be true, and I would recommend this neighborhood to anyone looking for a place to stay in Paris. We were close to both Villiers and Rome Metro stops, which made for easy access to everywhere we wanted to go.

Having previously lived in Paris, Ted was relegated to tour guide status. I created a list of the places I wanted to go and Ted did his best to put together an itinerary that met my expectations. I do have to say, to my credit, I went into this trip with reasonable expectations. Between chats with friends who had lived in or visited Paris in the past, and countless searches on Pinterest, I had a pretty good idea of how I wanted my first trip to Paris to unfold. Three and a half days in Paris isn’t much, but it is enough to see quite a bit if you know what is most important to you and if you’re willing to be flexible. Here is my original list of demands:

  • Eiffel Tower (day & night)
    • from Trocadero
    • up close
  • Musée du Louvre (from outside)
  • Musée d’Orsay
  • Notre Dame
  • Ladurée
  • Arc de Triomphe
  • Jardin des Tuileries
  • Les Invalides
  • Place Vendôme
  • Galeries Lafayette
  • Opéra Garnier
  • Grand Palais
  • Jardin du Luxembourg
  • Place de la Concorde
  • Place des Vosges
  • Night walk on the Seine or Canal St. Martin
  • Musée Carnavalet
  • Père – Lachaise
  • Moulin Rouge

In the end, we were able to do nearly everything, and Ted added several things to my initial list. The places we missed out on just gives me even more reason to visit Paris again, though do you really need a reason to visit Paris?

Have you been to Paris before or are you planning a trip there in the future? Stay tuned for Paris part 2!

#WeekendCoffeeShare 28/5/16

Hello everyone, this is the first post I’m writing from the USA since last August. What better way to share my reactions to arriving home in Michigan than a weekend coffee share.

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you that I have an endless supply of Italian coffee and French teas, along with some biscuits from my final trip to Monoprix waiting to be enjoyed.

This weekend’s chat is all about my return to the United States. The journey home was quite rough. Traveling from Nice to Copenhagen to New York to Nashville to Detroit made for a tiring and uncomfortable 36 hours (29 if you take into consideration the time change). We (my friend Karol was with me) flew Norwegian for the first half of the trip, then Southwest from New York to Detroit. The travel itinerary was booked with a budget in mind. We wanted to get home as cheaply as possible. Norwegian is great for cheap flights since they are a fairly new airline. Overall the experience with the airline was enjoyable. I showed up at the airport with three completely stuffed suitcases I needed to check, along with two carry-on bags. With the fare we booked, one checked bag was included, and I had prepaid for a second checked bag online. I didn’t even come close to fitting everything in the two bags I planned on using. The two larger checked bags were even over the weight limit by a few kgs. The woman checking us in didn’t charge me for either of the overweight bags, and I only paid an additional 50€ for the third bag at the airport. This was by far the best experience I’ve ever had checking bags.

Once we made it onto the plane, both in Nice and in Copenhagen, the staff was very nice and helpful. My only complaint about Norwegian is the food. The meal was not enjoyable at all, and despite the fact that I ordered a vegetarian meal online in advance when booking the tickets, I was denied a vegetarian meal on board. Thankfully I am not actually a vegetarian, or I would have been more upset about the matter.

My experience with Southwest was similarly pleasant. I’ve flown Southwest several times in the past. They generally have reasonably priced airfare, and two checked bags are included in the price. This was essential in my case. I did have to shuffle a few things around to get one of my bags down to 50 lbs, but the woman helping us was very nice about it. Furthermore, I only paid $75 for the third checked bag at the airport. I think this is very reasonable considering I’ve had to pay $100 for a slightly overweight bag in the past. Again the staff was very kind and helpful on both Southwest flights.

Finally, after leaving my apartment in Nice for the last time at 7:30 am Tuesday morning, we arrived in Detroit at 12:30 pm Wednesday afternoon. We kicked off my arrival with lunch at my favorite Mexican restaurant. After under three hours of sleep over the entire trip, I don’t know how I made it through the lunch awake.

I expected to feel a bit weird being back in the States, and I do. I’m pleasantly surprised that being here feels quite normal at the same time though. Everything really is bigger in the US. Going into Home Depot and Target was a bit shocking. I’ve been in large department stores in France, but seeing one single store, dedicated to a general category of goods, taking up such a large open space is odd. Going out to breakfast and getting an omelet that spans an entire large plate is shocking. These things were completely normal to me before leaving, but after spending so much time in a country with smaller portions of nearly everything, these sights are a bit off-putting. Coming home just in time for a holiday weekend has also made things a bit more interesting. Displaying flags and countless other patriotic, American flag patterned things is uniquely American. Aside from the recent surge in popularity of the French flag after the November attacks in Paris, displaying the French flag is usually seen as distinctly nationalist; a symbol monopolized by the extreme right. By no means am I purporting that the French are not proud of their heritage. This pride is just expressed in different ways.

While I miss France already, and I know these feelings will only intensify as time goes on, I am happy to be home having the chance to see family and friends that I haven’t seen in 8 months. I’m also taking full advantage of the other things I’ve been missing: shopping at Target, (relatively) cheap Starbucks, true Mexican food, and going out to breakfast just to name a few.

See you again next week for another weekend coffee share !