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 }

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 }

10 days in 10 photos

So #bestweekever lived up to its name. My boyfriend proposed on the 2nd day of our trip in Santorini, Greece. That alone was such a happy surprise that it would have been the “best week ever” even if we didn’t do anything else. But we got to have a few more days in paradise, and then headed to Montauk for a big reunion with our family and friends. It was a blast, but the celebrations completely wiped me out… I slept 14 hours straight last night!  Rather than trying to write anything eloquent, I leave you with a few pictures that capture key moments.

ATV view of caldera

{ view from the back of the ATV that we took everywhere }

Boat ride in Santorini

{ we got engaged on this gorgeous boat ride }

Donkeys in Thira

{ i insisted on finding the donkeys in thira }

Sunset Santorini Greece rooftops

{ rooftops in santorini }

athens acropolis

{ morning stroll in athens }

Plane window view of clouds

{ plane window view }

Montauk beach view

{ beach days in montauk }

Duryea's lobster dock Montauk

{ duryea’s lobster dock }

Sloppy Tuna Montauk, NY

{ the sloppy tune – all americanah }

Rainbow at the Hideaway in Montauk

{ a rainbow came out just in time for celebratory drinks }

Eclypse de Mar – a highlight in Bocas del Toro

I’m a hot or cold person. If I like something enough to include it in the blog, you can probably assume that I would say I loved it. (My big brother tells me I use too much hyperbole in my speech. I’m working on that. He’s an English major and usually knows best). But, when it comes to the hotel in this post, it’s not an exaggeration to say that I absolutely lurve this place.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has fantasized about staying in an over the water bungalow hotel. Having your own individual hut that you could jump into the ocean from always seemed like the epitome of vacationing bliss. But the cost for most of these places is outside of the realm of possibility for my normal travel budget.  I resigned myself to the thought that it would only happen on a honeymoon trip or some other huge occasion in the distant future.

Enter Eclypse de Mar. This eco hotel in Bocas del Toro, Panama has 6 bungalows that start at only $180 a night for 2 people. If you want to get to one of the nearby towns (Island Bastimentos is the closest), you use a large white flag to flag down a water taxi; you can get a ride over for less than $5 a trip. But really, why would you need to leave?

On your private deck, there are lounge chairs for catching the sun in the daytime, or a hammock you can string up for an optimal evening reading nook. Breakfast is delivered outside your bungalow door. Glass bottomed kayaks and a paddle board are available for hotel guests, and there are coral reefs to snorkel in nearby. Just walk down your private plank to the restaurant for dinner — their cook makes the best food that I tasted on these islands. The staff is friendly and has thought of every detail, like ceiling fans that are built inside of the canopy beds to provide a breeze while protecting from insects. There are even small openings in the bungalow floor with blue lights you can turn on to attract fish and yes, they provide fish food you can sprinkle directly into the ocean to increase the swarm. This place is definitely eco — the electricity is only turned on in the evenings, and the water pressure is minimal. For me, this just added to the romantic charm… and made me idealize the cool, bohemian owner (Malena) even more.

{ personal bungalow }

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{ sunset from the deck }

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{ view from the bedroom }

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{ paddleboarding from the dock }

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{ catch a water taxi }

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{ Bastimentos – Bocas del Toro }

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{ sundown in Bocas }

Getting there: Fly into Panama City (United has direct flights from Chicago & New York, Delta has direct flights from Atlanta, and Spirit Airlines flies there from Miami – I’ve seen them for under $300 RT). From Panama, get a puddle jumper to Bocas del Toro airport and then a water taxi out to Bastimentos/Eclypse de Mar hotel. Alternatively, you can fly to San Jose, Costa Rica and take a combination of a speed boat & bus – this involves walking across the border with your suitcases… something that I did not enjoy in 90 degree weather one bit.  Unless you’re spending some time in Costa Rica, avoid that route!

Day tripping – Cambridge

Many visitors to the UK are interested in going to Oxford or Cambridge to see the famous Universities and their surrounding towns. Either one is easily accessible by the National Rail train line and is perfect for a day trip from London. Since many of my family members live in or near Oxford and have attended Oxford University (including my British grandfather who I absolutely treasured), I can’t make an unbiased call on which to do if you only have time for one… The long standing rivalry between Oxford & Cambridge means that I’d have to advocate for Oxford on principal alone.

That being said, there are many merits to visiting Cambridge, especially if its a quick day trip – one being that the river Cam flows through the city center. That is the highlight of the itinerary I’ve described below.

ITINERARY: ONE DAY IN CAMBRIDGE 

Getting there: The train from London’s King’s Cross station is 45 minutes and shouldn’t cost more than £23 return. Once in Cambridge, consider renting a bike from Station Cycles next to the station. Cambridge has a small college town feel that’s easy to navigate your way around. It is a straight shot from the station toward the center, about a mile long walk/bike ride.

In Cambridge: the quaint college town is worth spending some time exploring. The Grand Arcade Shopping Center is a good landmark, you’ll know you’re in the center if you see it. Check out the smaller boutiques and try some food from one of the food trucks lining the area. Many of the streets are closed to pedestrians.

The main attraction: get on the river! Take a punting tour – a 45 minute boat ride that is a great way to see Cambridge University since the colleges are positioned along the river. You can take out your own punting boat (and you’ll see many students who do), but I recommend a guided tour. The boat operators will tell you stories about the colleges and a bit about Cambridge’s history. We went with Scudamores punting, but you’ll see operators lined up and could go with whoever offers the best price (and has a tour leaving when you’re ready). Stop by Cambridge Wine Merchants on 32 Bridge Street to stock up before you go – cigars, wine, beer or whatever you fancy to enhance the experience.

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{ punting boat by Cambridge }

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{ on the river cam }

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{ cambridge architecture }

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{ weeping willows }

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{ boats and blankets }

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{ through the tunnels }

Tip: Don’t go on a rainy day. But, you don’t necessarily need to save this for warm weather. We went on a cool, sunny day in February and wrapped up in the wool blankets that they provided.

Welcome!

Hi, I’m Blythe, and welcome to my blog. I’m currently living in London with my boyfriend, where I’ve made it my mission to get so many stamps on our passports that we have to order new pages.

I am starting this blog in part to help preserve all of the experiences, places, and things I’ve loved throughout our travels.

Plus, I love receiving recommendations, and felt it was time to start sharing my own. I hope it inspires you to visit some or all of them.

Boats in Morocco

{ boats in morocco }

London streets sunset

{ london streets }

Hidden beach in panama

{ a hidden beach in panama }

Vernazza houses on cliffs cinque terre

{ vernazza, the cinque terre }

sheep on the beach in wales

{ sheep on the beach, wales }

lake tahoe, california snow capped mountains

{ lake tahoe, california }