Paris favorites

Paris is one of those over hyped cities that I never think will be able to live up to the extremely high expectations I put on it. But, the city manages to be charming, romantic, delicious and different every time I go.

In part, I think that’s because I haven’t been trying to “do everything” when I’ve visited Paris recently. This is almost the opposite of how I often approach other cities that I visit for a weekend – feeling like I need to cram it all in, never knowing when I’ll be back again. But because Paris is such a quick train ride from London, my mentality was shifted during the two weekend trips that I took this year. I always felt like I’d be back again soon.  For me, that meant there was no need to re-visit the classic sights like the Eiffel tower, Louvre, and Champs-Élysées.

This opened up new possibilities. On a trip with my aunt and mom in the fall, we spent hours walking (and shopping) our way around the Marais and St. Germaine. I tasted macaroons from at least 5 different cafes over the span of 3 days, and we had leisurely dinners that were heavy on the wine and catching up. On a gorgeous April weekend, I went back with my fiancé. This time, all our time was spent outdoors – walking tours, bike rides, picnics and trips to the park were the perfect way to enjoy springtime Paris.

(more after the jump)

Louvre view from Musee D'Orsay

{ louvre view from musee d’orsay }

top 3

1. Have brunch in Montmarte

The term “le bobo” originated in Montmarte – it is an abbreviation of bourgeois bohemian. To be a le bobo, you would have come from a wealthy class (bourgeois) but chosen to live as a bohemian artist, probably with the intent of pissing off your parents. The artists and le bobos made Montmarte famous in the 1800s and early 1900s, but the hipster chic Parisian vibe carries on. It is filled with boutiques, street side cafes, teeny food stands and street performers. Since it gets crowded with tourists, head up to Montmarte in the morning, and grab a table at one of the outdoor cafes before the mad rush. Set yourself up with a croissant and an espresso – the modern day bobos will provide entertaining people watching for at least an hour or two.

2. Do a walking tour around Notre Dame

I’ve seen Notre Dame and knew the gist of the history – although, admittedly, this was partially informed by Victor Hugo’s novel (and the Disney movie adaptation) about the hunchback. A walking tour took my understanding to a new level. I thought that we’d get bored spending an hour walking around one church. I was wrong – and this is all due to the delivery of Flora, our guide. She described the intricacies of the statues and explained how the carvings were intended to tell the story of the Bible to illiterate worshipers. This gave us an entirely different appreciation of the minute details and care put into the sculpture work. I can’t recommend Flora from Discover Walks enough – I’ve done other walking tours and am convinced it’s all about the guide

3. Have a long, boozy meal at a bistro in the Marais

Two of my favorite meals in recent memory were dinners near Bastille/Marais. From my understanding, the resurgence of the Marais neighborhood is a response to St. Germaine becoming overly popularized. Much like the East Village in Manhattan has become the destination for those who find the West Village overly saturated, the Marais offers a trendy, but less touristy version of St. Germaine. Go to Chez Janou for the biggest chocolate mousse ever – you’ll get to scoop out whatever portion you can manage. This bistro treats a meal like revelry. The waiters seem to have about 10 friends each in the restaurant at a time, taking shots and partying their way through the meal.  At Le Din Don en Laisse, the owner carefully plans seating arrangements each evening, putting you elbow-to-elbow with other patrons he thinks you’ll enjoy. By the time they brought us a bottle of whiskey at the end of the meal to share, we were already long lost friends with our neighbors.  Don’t miss the risotto.

P.S. Special thanks to my friends/gillys, Dayna & Ali, for the recommendations for these 2 restaurants.

Breakfast in Montmarte - espresso and cigarettes

{ in montmarte, the table next to us was brunching on espresso and cigarettes }

Sailboats in Luxembourg Gardens

{ sailboats in luxembourg gardens }

Bicycle and a baguette in Paris

{ feeling parisian on a bicycle with a baguette }

Carousel in view of the Sacre Coeur

{ carousel in view of the sacre coeur }

Macaroon tour in Paris

{ a self guided macaroon tour }

Intricate Details on Notre Dame

{ intricate details on notre dame }

Picnic on River Seine

{ picnic by the weeping willows along the seine }

Luxembourg Gardens in Springtime Paris

{ springtime paris in the luxembourg gardens }

one year of London

Exactly one year ago today (on Labor Day in the US), we landed in London. We had left for the airport directly from Montauk the day before, in my fiance’s Lebaron convertible loaded up with our suitcases.

This year has certainly been the most eventful of our lives. We traveled like crazy – our most recent calculations are that we’ve been away on 26 different trips this year. We’ve become expert RyanAir flyers and expert Air BNB renters. We also moved in together, got a new job (me), got a new degree (him), made new friends, and got engaged.

We’ve recently decided that we are relocating again. This fall we are moving to San Francisco.  We leave London in just under 2 weeks, which is feeling way too soon for us to fit in everything on our UK bucket list. But we got off to a good start this past weekend. Highlights included a trip to Harrods for macaroons, one last visit with my family in Oxford, a friend’s Mexican themed bash, and a bike ride around Hyde park. It was crammed full of activity — as I expect every day over the next 2 weeks will be.

Lebaron departure from Montauk

{ One year ago: our labor day weekend departure, with a wills & kate wave }

Standlake at the Limes

{ this weekend at the limes – my grandparents’ house in standlake, england }

punting boats in oxford

{ punting boats in oxford }

English countryside gardens

{ bean picking in the english countryside }

Bike Riding Barclays bikes Hyde Park

{ bikes in hyde park – our sunday staple activity in london }

Harrods - the British tradition

{ outside harrods – an english shopping haven }

Ladurée in Harrods

{ pastel perfection – macaroons at ladurée }

Statues and Street Hockey in Hyde Park

{ statues and street hockey in hyde park }

Still remaining on our list – the tate, a big night out with our london crew, one final dinner at burger/lobster, and another trip to portabello road market. Anything else we can’t miss, before we go?

Barcelona weekends

I made it to Barcelona for a quick 48 hours back when I was doing a semester abroad, in college. It was November, and cold. I liked the city, and I remember being impressed by the museums and the architecture that we visited. But truthfully, one of the main things I remember from that trip was that my roommate’s purse was stolen and, along with it, the digital camera that stored most of our memories. (Ah, the days before iPhones). I’m not sure I even saw the beaches.

In May, I made it back there with my parents and my fiance for a long weekend. It always blows me away how much of an impact the weather can have on my perception of a city. This time, 70 degree temperatures and sunny skies greeted us. When you have weather like that, it means that just sitting at a sidewalk café, playing cards, in view of Sagrada Familia, becomes picture perfect. We were so infatuated by the city that my father’s catch phrase became “I’ll make it back to Barcelona in this lifetime”.

The city was not just one that we loved visiting, it seemed so live-able too. I was daydreaming about moving there, living in a quaint apartment in the old city and biking down to the beaches on the weekends. I can’t wait to get back.

{ more after the break }

placa reail in barcelona

{ palms and arches in placa reial }

top 3

1. Check out Gaudi’s work

We took a hop on, hop off bus around the city which allowed us to see most of his work, and took us out to Park Güell. The park is a “can’t miss” destination but there are flocks of tourists almost any time of day. If you wait patiently by one of the benches, you’ll eventually get a coveted spot with views of Gaudi’s work in the park, and the whole city behind it.

2. Bike the boardwalk

The beaches were one of the biggest surprises on my return trip to Barcelona. I normally think of city beaches the way I think of cold pizza – disappointing, but with a weird appeal.  Not so with Barcelona’s beaches. These were all appeal, and no weirdness (unless you have an aversion to nudity).  Close to the city, you’ll find more of a scene. The restaurants on this prime real estate offer cabanas and bottle service.  But gorgeous, white sand beaches stretched for miles. We biked to the end of the boardwalk, where there was barely another soul in sight. Try Bike Rental Barcelona (+34 666 057 655) for reasonably priced beach cruisers.

3. Beers at sundown, in the Plaça Reial

One of the best things we did was spend hours walking around Barri Gotic – the historic neighborhood off of La Rambla. There’s something magical about Spanish street life.  Day or night, you feel like the city is vibrating with life. Plaça Reial was one of the most striking plazas with its tall palms and symmetrical architecture surrounding you. There are many tapas restaurants where you can sit and enjoy the evening life.  Or, act like a local and perch on the edge of the fountain right in the middle of the plaza. You can buy cold beers from the vendors milling around for about 1 euro a piece.

Beach Cruisers Barcelona

{ what’s cooler than my mint colored beach cruiser? }

Gaudi Architecture Barcelona

{ street view of gaudi’s work }

Inside Park Guell Barcelona

{ up close view of gaudi’s work at park guell }

Beaches in Barcelona

{ not your average city beach }

Sand Castles in Barcelona

{ intricate sand castle work on the beach, barcelona }

Placa Reail Barcelona

{ another view of placa reial }

Barcelona Boardwalk, Palm Trees

{ palm lined boardwalk in barca }

View from Park Guell in Barcelona

{ gaudi’s work and city views }

Day Trip Itinerary – Outside Venice

Until I arrived in Venice last September, I didn’t know much about the Veneto region. While there, on a self led cicchetti bar tour, we learned from one of the bartenders that this area of small towns is known as the home of prosecco. Since I love sparkling white wines as much as the next ex-sorority girl, it only seemed right to rent a car and explore.

TripAdvisor was our best friend that day, pointing us toward a vineyard that felt like a painting – a house the color of daffodils popped out against the nubby vines.  Inside, we found a sweet grandpa who poured us tastings and told us about the family’s long history in the town of Valdobbiadene.

Possibly the best part of the day was encountering Osteria all Terrazza. At first, it looked like it was just an overlook- a place to bring a picnic and enjoy views of the surrounding vineyards and rolling hills. We realized that across the street, a small restaurant was set up to take orders and carry them over to your seats. The menu was tiny, but all we needed was plain pasta loaded with garlic and a generous antipasti plate to fall in love with the simple, local food.


Getting there:  You’ll need a car to explore. So, I’d recommend doing this on the last day of your trip, especially if you’re flying out from the Venice airport to your next destination. Car rental prices are almost always cheapest from airports, rather than from a city. We did this as a daytrip before an evening flight back to London. When we returned the car in the late afternoon, we just had to check in and get right on our flight.

Prosecco Tastings: Try Ca’ Salina, the family winery I described above. For a more polished experience, drop in at Fasol Menin Winery. None of the wineries we visited charged us for the tastings. Consequently, we felt obligated to buy a bottle from every one.

Eat: A big plate of pasta will help soak up the prosecco before you head back to Venice. Osteria all Terrazza will offer you just that, with gorgeous views as well.  They don’t have a website, and there are no reviews in English on TripAdvisor. Driving out of town up into the hills, you’ll see it on your right, or try plugging in this address to google maps: Via San Pietro 73A, Valdobbiadene, Italia.

View of Valdobbiadene

{ stop off for the views of valdobbiadene }

Outside Ca' Salina Winery Valdobbiadene

{ striking ca’salina winery }

Osteria All Terrazza in Valdobbiadene

{ osteria all terrazza from the outside }

Views from Osteria all Terrazza

{ views from osteria all terrazza }

Town Center in Valdobbiadene

{ the small town center and bell tower }

Valdobbiadene Wineries and Vineyards

{ views from the vineyards of surrounding towns }

P.S. sorry for the long posting lag – this blogging is more time consuming than I expected! xx

London Sundays – the Columbia Road Flower Market

Like most attractions in London, the Columbia Road Flower Market is steeped in history. Two fun facts:

1. It was started in the 1800’s by Angela Burdett-Coutts, who was known as the richest heiress in England and who married her 29 year old secretary when she was 67. The original Demi Moore??

2. Originally this market operated on Saturdays, but it was moved to Sundays in the mid 1900’s to allow the Jewish traders who lived in this area to work. In order to do this an Act of Parliament was passed because Sunday trade was prohibited at the time.

Although Columbia Road has had different market trades operating throughout the years, it is now strictly a flower market. There is an amazingly varied selection –  the gorgeous blooms on display feel like a culmination of the year-long drizzle you find in England.

The market is fun to see, but the crowds around the flower stalls on Columbia Road are pretty intense. So pickup some peonies and then turn off onto one of the side streets. You’ll find narrow, cobble stoned streets lined with boutiques and small restaurants. There is often live music, and the overall vibe is much more conducive to spending a lazy Sunday. I tried Jones Dairy for freshly shucked oysters which were served outside, with Tabasco and lemon.

Vendor at Columbia Flower Market

{ vendors with cockney accents were yelling out discounts on flower prices – “three for a tenner!” }

Flowers at the Columbia Road Flower Market

{ cheap bundles of flowers lined up at columbia road flower market }

Columbia Road Flower Market London

{ stalls at the flower market }

Jones Dairy Cafe on Ezra Street

{ the promise of good food afterward = the easiest way to convince my fiance to trek over to columbia road }

Oyster Shucking at Jones Dairy Cafe

{ oyster shucking at jones dairy cafe }

3 bunches for a tenner

{ floral deals at columbia road }

Note: The market is open every single Sunday of the year, even Easter Sunday, unless Christmas falls on a Sunday. It runs from 8am to 2pm (but the Jones Dairy Cafe often runs out of their oysters by mid-day! )


Before visiting Marrakech, I had a few disparate perceptions of the place that I couldn’t quite gel into one vision. Was it how I’d always pictured Morocco–  a place where you can ride a camel into an Arabian night, with sand dunes as far as the eye can see? Or was it a destination taken over by Anglo European tourists, who are there because of the cheap EasyJet flights? Or was it like a crowded city scene from the movie Aladdin, complete with monkeys jumping around in the markets?

Turns out, Marrakech is all of the above. There are monkeys in the markets, but their owners charge tourists a few euros if they pose in a picture with you. The rolling hills of sand are there, but you have to get out of the city to see them. There are pushing crowds, delicious mint teas, smelly donkeys and luscious gardens. The city is an assault on your senses, but its one I’d consider a “don’t miss”.


{ donkey in a souk – a snapshot of marrakech }

top 3

1. Hire a driver for the day

Our hotel linked us up with a kind, low key, local man who drove us around in a vintage Mercedes Benz for the whole day. Total cost? About 40 euros. We visited the Jardin Majorelle (aka Yves St Laurent’s gardens), the Bahia Palace and the Saadian Tombs, stopped for pictures with camels, and got a tour of the leather tanneries all at a leisurely pace. He would give us advice when he dropped us off, such as holding bundles of fresh mint to our nose to fend off the stench as we perused the tanneries.  And as we left each place, he’d be waiting nearby. When you walk out of any of tourist destinations, you will be harassed by 5-10 different drivers jockeying to offer you a special deal. This is exhausting. So however you do it, find someone who you can trust, and stick with them.

2. Visit the leather souks

This is a given. Another given? That you’ll find yourself haggling with a vendor over 10 euros to a level that you’d never have expected of yourself. I’d recommend going at dusk.  At this time, the souks will be slightly less crowded and slightly less hectic. Plus, you might shave a few pennies off of that leather jacket simply because the vendor wants to move some more inventory before he closes. Then head to the the Jamaa el Fnaa – in the evening, the main square turns into a food stall explosion offering everything from escargot to kebabs.

3. Stay at the Kenzi Menara Palace

Many will recommend staying in Riads (the traditional Moroccan homes that have been converted to hotels), and we enjoyed doing this in Essaouira. I don’t want to over emphasize the frantic and overwhelming nature of Marrakech as a city, and scare anyone away from visiting. But, for me, being able to escape the heat, the crowds and the haggling was a godsend and the Kenzi Menara Palace was an oasis from the city. The pool is gorgeous, the snow covered mountains are in view, and the concierge and staff are some of the most accommodating and friendly people I’ve met. In fact, the hotel staff were some of the only locals I could converse with who didn’t immediately ask me for a small fee for acting as my “guide”. Make sure to leave enough time for 2nds or 3rds of breakfast – I think they make a version of English breakfast, Moroccan breakfast, American breakfast, and everything in between.

Kenzi Menara Palace in MArrakech

{ kenzi menara hotel – an oasis in marrakech } 

Camels in Morocco

{ camels and palms }

Souks in Marrakech

{ sniffing mint at the souks }

Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech

{ jardin majorelle }

Food stalls at Jemaa el-Fnaa

{ food stalls at jemaa el-fnaa }

Whip for the day in Marrakech

{ whipping around marrakech }

Donkey In Marrakech

{ donkey drive by }

Marrakech camels

{ posing in marrakech, morocco }

London eats

Most New Yorkers who visit London don’t come back with recommendations about the food. There’s a perception that the fish & chips and the curries are awesome, but that everything else is mediocre (at best). After living in NYC for 5 years, I have to say that London food was an adjustment. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a huge fan of fried fish and Indian food, and would probably fly to the UK just to eat either one!  But compared to NYC? Home of bagels, deli sandwiches and pizza slices? Sorry but the cheese and pickle sandwich at Pret a Manger doesn’t stack up.

So, during our first few months living in London, I ended up cooking almost every meal at home. This was a good thing.  But gradually I realized – London’s culinary scene is there. You just need to know how to find it.

Here are a few of my favorite (aka favourite) finds:

1. Burger Lobster

there’s no menu at burger lobster because they only serve 2 things: burgers and lobsters. Either option is £20, so to get your money’s worth go for the lobsters (which they import from Nova Scotia). You can have it grilled, steamed or as a roll. You can always order a burger as a “starter” to share with your dining companions. They’re rolling this restaurant out across the world soon, but I’ll remember that London was first, and give them some cred for that.

2. Princi

this was a bakery that did pizzas as a sideline, for their lunch crowd. Its baked goods are still around and delicious, but it has expanded to include a sit down restaurant with an industrial and urban vibe. Go for the pizzas, which are served individually and prepared Italian style. Prepare for a difficult decision about toppings.

3. La Bodega Negra

this is London’s hot spot for Mexican food, complete with a “speakeasy” bar on the ground floor where you can go for late night cocktails. Their guacamole, Mexican style corn and carnitas tacos are all done extremely well. What’s even better? The staff. Despite huge crowds, they will help you find a spot to post up at the bar. They’ll even bring you chips & dips while you wait for a table. Great service… in a place blasting hip hop tunes, known for visits from Kate Moss, and with hour long waiting lists?? Toto, we’re not in New York City anymore!

La Bodega Negra in Soho London

{ la bodega negra in soho }

Pizza from Princi in London

{ pizza at princi }

Burger Lobster - lobster roll

{ went for the roll at burger lobster }