Paris of the East

Hungary’s capital city Budapest is often called the Paris of the East. Eager to discover it for myself, I booked a ticket and got ready to explore this beautiful city so rich in history and culture. My travel savvy step-sister joined for the adventure and we planned our short visit strategically. After a festive evening of Christmas markets and mulled wine, our morning was spent crossing from Pest to Buda. The Széchenyi Chain Bridge is the first permanent bridge to connect both sides of the city via the Danube river.

From the end of Chain Bridge we rode the Buda Hill Funicular, in service since 1870 and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  All the way up to Buda Castle Hill we enjoyed stunning views of the city, with plenty of photo ops.

Views of Budapest are even better seen from 100 year old Fishermen’s Bastion. With a fish market nearby, this bastion was built to commemorate the fishermen who protected this part of the city. Each of the seven tent-like turrets symbolizes one of the seven Hungarian tribes that arrived to the Carpathian Basin in 896.

Nearby Neo-Gothic Matthias Church is considered one of the most beautiful churches in Budapest, as well as the most unique in Europe. Built in 1015 and inspired by orientalism, it’s colorful  interior is breathtaking!

Back on the Pest side of the city, we stopped by the memorial ‘Shoes on the Danube River’ to pay our respects to the 3,500 people, 800 of them Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen during World War II.

The Hungarian Parliament Building is without a doubt one of the most regal buildings in Budapest, also the third largest Parliament building in the world. We took a tour of the interior as well, worth the visit.

That night we booked a tour of Budapest by night and enjoyed a history lesson as the city lit up before our eyes.

Day two was dedicated to bath houses and spas, beginning with Budapest’s most famous Széchenyi thermal bath. The largest medicinal bath in Europe, its water is supplied by two thermal springs, with temperatures of 74 °C and 77 °C.  What an experience, bathing with tourists and locals alike.

Our next stop was to Gellért, an art noveau thermal bath opened in 1918. Another must do in “the city of spas”. Here we soaked in indoor hot springs and I braved a few dips in the cold pool and indulged in the steam room.

Our last visit was to the Harmony Spa at Aria Hotel located in the city center. Where music is the theme throughout the hotel, we relaxed at the hands of skilled masseuses, the perfect ending to a day of wellness.

I couldn’t very well leave Budapest without a visit to the elegant New York Café. Often considered the “most beautiful coffee house in the world”, this is where writers and editors would meet to drink and dine. In 2006 it was restored to its original splendor, offering some of Budapest’s best cakes. Another top address for homemade cakes and chocolate is Gerbeaud, opened in 1858. The perfect spot to pick up a few sweet souvenirs. As for dining, our favorite gourmet restaurant was 10 year old family run Mák Bistro. Michelin star level!

Thank you Budapest, for the many memories of this Paris of the East! Aside from some of the taxi drivers who try to take you for a ride (not just in the literal sense), best to order a taxi online, it was a trip to remember!

World War I Centennial

This year marks 100 years since American soldiers entered World War I, aiding their French allies in winning the war. To commemorate the Centennial of the Great War, I recently joined Atout France for a trip to the Lorraine and Meuse Argonne regions of France, the setting for many hard fought battles. Our journey began at the train station in the city of Metz. The Neo-Roman architecture is one example of the power during the German empire.

From here we discovered the Centre Pompidou-Metz, a modern contrast to this medieval Gallo-Roman city which includes Saint Etienne Cathedral with stained glass windows by Marc Chagall and the Porte des Allemends (German Door). The latter was named for the Teutonic Knights who founded a hospital nearby in the 13th century.

From Metz we drove 80 kilometers to Verdun in the Meuse Argonne region, where I enjoyed a room with a view of the city at hotel Les Jardins du Mess, not to mention a decadent dinner. In the morning it was time to explore.

The first stop in discovering exactly how grueling life was for the soldiers during the Great War was at Butte de Vauquois. It is here that mine warfare created massive craters in the land, beneath which German soldiers built a network of galleries. Soldiers often spent entire weeks within these dark, damp tunnels. Hard to fathom.

Our next stop was to Romagne ’14-’18, a museum created through 30 years of collecting wartime objects within the woods around Romagne-sous-Montfaucon. This is the life work of Jean-Paul de Vries, a man with many a tale to tell. Collections of grenades, rifles and helmets to items including combs, forks, watches, shoes and love letters, tell the story of the soldiers’ everyday life.

American soldiers officially entered the war on April 6th 1917, mobilizing over 4 million able-bodied men. This followed their two years of aiding injured French soldiers as ambulance drivers. Victory with the aid of American soldiers in 1918, ended the mine warfare in Verdun. The American Monument at Montfaucon d’Argonne is one of many testaments to America’s loyalty to France. This 60-meter high monument commemorating American victory in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, faces the front line of the American First Army on the morning of September 26, 1918, the start of the offensive.

To commemorate the 14,246 American soldiers who lost their lives during World War I, we spent a solemn evening at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. It was November 11th 2017, and the largest American graveyard in Europe held a ceremony with 3,000 candles in remembrance of these soldiers. I will never forget this deeply touching experience. Next year for the Centennial on September 23, 2018, one candle will be lit for every soldier who fought alongside the French. This event will honor the promise made by General Pershing: “Time will not dim the glory of their deeds”.

That night we found refuge at Hostellerie du Château des Monthairons, a family-run castle that once served as as a hospital for US troops in 1915. The perfect place to reflect.

The following day began at the Battlefield of Verdun, the setting for the most intense warfare that took place during WWI. This French and German battlefield remained in French hands, but not without horrific losses of life from both sides. The Battle of Verdun in 1916 lasted 300 days and 300 nights with non-stop fighting. Tragically, more than 300,000 soldiers died or were considered missing, with over 400,000 French and German soldiers wounded. A visit to Verdun might be the only way to truly comprehend this unprecedented loss of life from both sides.

The Ossuary is one of the national French memorials to the First World War, and a remarkable tribute to brave men. Here the remains of 130,000 unknown soldiers are laid to rest. Whether from the German or French side, these soldiers are united as men who lost the battle for their lives.

Nearby Fort Vaux is a symbol of French heroism. It was here that Major Sylvain-Eugene Raynal, after running out of water, medical supplies and food for his men, sent several messages via homing pigeons. It was his last pigeon that brought relief for his soldiers. This pigeon named Le Vaillant, released from Fort Vaux on June 4, 1916, was awarded the Order of the Nation. A feat worth the honor!

The Verdun Memorial provides a comprehensive history lesson on the Battle of Verdun. You are greeted by the image of a Verdun soldier, unaware whether he is French or German. This recently renovated museum is filled with original photographs, bone-chilling eyewitness accounts, and 2,000 wartime items. Personal items include crafts made by the soldiers during many idle hours, and letters sent home to worried families.

This journey through the Lorraine and Meuse Argonne regions presents both a history lesson and brings us closer to the heroism and tragedies of all these young soldiers, regardless of the borders that defined them. A journey worth taking for all of us, especially for the Centennial of World War I.

Paris Picks : Books

What better gift to give during the holidays (or any occasion for that matter), than a book. Especially one connected to Paris for the Francophile in your life, which you too will be certain to enjoy. To help you choose, I’m sharing my favorite recently published books written by authors I’m grateful to call friends. I promise you’ll love them all! Just click on the book to read more about it and purchase a copy, or two.
I met Lindsey Tramuta soon after moving to Paris and we’ve become fast friends ever since. Her book The New Paris casts a light the evolution of the city during this last decade, highlighting the movers and shakers behind the changing face of Paris. A perfect read for those interested in Parisian gastronomy, or anything food and drink related for that matter. With stellar photography by Charissa Fay, you’ll drool just reading it. Welcome to ‘The New Paris’!Laura Calder and I met years ago in Paris through a mutual friend and have been inspiring each other since that first encounter. She with her French recipes and dining advice and me with my love of design. We even collaborated on a project in which I helped her design signature linen napkins. In her latest book The Inviting Life: An Inspirational Guide to Homemaking, Hosting and Opening the Door to Happiness, Laura shares her tips on how to transform the ordinary into something magical, both in and out of the kitchen. This includes décor, ambience, shopping, and planning dinner parties, of which she is a pro!

A soulful Australian woman with a deep love for Paris, Katrina Lawrence and I met during one of her visits, soon after she purchased a 75006 bag from my Paris Collection, representing her favorite neighborhood. Just days ago she released her first book Paris Dreaming, taking us on a journey around Paris, through all the stages of her life. Katrina muses on everything Parisian, from politics to perfume to stylish Parisiennes, and shares the life lessons Paris has taught her along the way. Prepare to become enchanted!

When Vanessa Grall moved from London to Paris, she began documenting her bohemian adventures in her blog, Messy Nessy Chic. We met during one of her discoveries and I remained a dedicated fan, along with thousands of others. Her new book Don’t be a Tourist in Paris: The Messy Nessy Chic Guide is a ‘chic cabinet of curiosities’, and will certainly reveal the true heart of Paris to you. What’s more, you can find my bag painting workshops on page 148. Thank you, Vanessa!

David Lebovitz is certainly a man about town. Especially in Paris’s right bank where we both live, and where I often run into him. In his latest book L’Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home, David shares perplexing and often humorous tales of updating his Parisian apartment, in a way that only he can tell. Enjoy his continued expat adventures, along with dozens of new recipes.

 

Thankful

It shouldn’t be just one day a year that we sit down with those dearest to us and express gratitude for that which is truly important in life. Having each other. Sharing this experience of life. Knowing what a true friend is, and being one. We should express kindness and gratitude daily, through the smallest gestures, even with people we don’t know. After all, kindness is contagious. And I for one am a believer in karma.

I used to write more personally on my blog and will take a moment to share what I am truly grateful for, given that it’s Thanksgiving. I hope you will do the same, today, or whenever you feel the need. Especially when life is dealing you a bad hand, take a look at what IS rather than what ISN’T. You’ll see how blessed you are.

1. My Italian. A man who I can truly rely on and who loves me through all the good moments and the bad.

2. My mom. A strong and loving woman who I admire and look up to and hope one day to have the same relationship with a child of my own.

3. My friends. I often joke that I collect people, but in a way it’s true. There are some of those people that shine more brightly and our bond becomes unbreakable. Whether we live in the same city, or half a world away. These friends are forever.

4. My life. The strength & resolve to create my own life and live it by my own rules, not those set by anyone else.

5. My work. The creative mind and courage to do what I truly love and follow my heart. Designing and writing fill me with SO MUCH, and to be able to share what I create and write, this means everything.

6. My homes. Everyday I wake up and feel blessed to live in Paris, well, almost every day. As tough as the life of an expat can be, I am so much richer for this experience. And calling the Italian Riviera home, my town in Poland, New York City and the Hamptons. I am truly blessed.

7. My travels. One of the best educations is travel. What we experience and learn is something that no one can take away from us and means so much more than any material possessions. At least for me.

I could go on, but it’s soon time to meet some of these friends I mentioned, and spend an evening of gratitude together. Wishing you too, a day filled with thanks.

Yves Saint Laurent in Paris

In early October, the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris opened in the 19th century mansion  at 5 Avenue Marceau.  The company headquarters and location of Mr. Saint Laurent’s and his partner Mr. Bergé’s office since 1974, this was also where Yves Saint Laurent would meet his clients for fittings. In 2004, it was transformed into a foundation for public view, with three to four exhibitions annually. It was Pierre Bergé, once the chief executive of Yves Saint Laurent, who decided to dedicate this space to the late designer, and open a museum. Lucky for those of us who admire the work of this visionary man who changed women’s attitudes towards fashion. As Yves Saint Laurent once said, “Fashion fades, style is eternal.”

Not only do we get a glimpse into Yves Saint Laurent’s chic fashion creations, but his design process too.

From collections inspired by artists including Mondrian and Picasso; to faraway travels to Morocco, sub-Saharan Africa, Russia, Spain and Asia; to haute couture gowns, Yves Saint Lauren knew how to dress a woman.

The highlight of the museum is Yves Saint Laurent’s workspace set on the second floor. Here you find his many inspirations as revealed in his collections of books, fabrics and fashion trimmings. A designers paradise!


A dedicated fan of Yves Saint Laurent, my next stop will be the newly opened Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakesh, the location of his and Pierre Bergé’s second home and a place close to their hearts. Stay tuned…

Theatre in Paris

I love a good theatre performance and have had the pleasure of enjoying quite a few during my years in New York. But in Paris? Preferring the ease of my native tongue, I had only seen one show since moving to Paris. That is, until I discovered Theatre in Paris. What is it exactly? French plays with English subtitles. Brilliant!

Paris is famous for its theatre, and now fellow Anglophones can join in the local culture. Theatre in English seeks out the best performances in the city of lights, set within a number of theatres throughout Paris. “From the spectacular architecture of a listed historical monument commissioned by Queen Marie-Antoinette to the glamour of an old Parisian ‘café théâtre’, to the charm of a small oak-panelled neighborhood theatre.” What’s more, they offer over 100 performances to choose from every month. Without compromising the show, English subtitles are viewed on a screen only for those who need them. And seats will always offer a prime view.

One of France’s greatest stars is cabaret singer, songwriter and actress Édith Piaf, often referred to as “The Little Sparrow”. Being a fan of her music, when I discovered the performance “I Love Piaf”, I booked tickets for my Italian and I and we made a French night of it. The play took place in a late 19th century Théâtre Trévise in the 9th district, nearby to the famed Folies Bergère. The performers were impressive as they told the story of the singer’s life. Award-winning accordionist Aurélien Noël was once the best in the world, and singer Caroline Rose captivated us all with her voice. The screenwriter was both engaging and humorous. It was certainly an experience in living la vie en rose!

I’m already looking forward to the next performance and might soon become a regular Parisian theatre-goer.

 

 

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