creatively minded

One of the best parts of living in Paris as an expat is meeting fellow expats, each of us on our own unique journey. For a moment, our paths cross and the world becomes a little smaller and more familiar. This is how I felt when I met photographer Elizabeth Young, as we shared tales of living and working in NYC, in the same Lower East Side neighborhood even. Given my love for photography, I immediately turned my attention to Elizabeth’s personal work and how she manages to balance her career between Paris and New York. As is often the case with creative minds, weeks later she was at my home office collaborating on a photography project.

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My office is where I spend many hours of the day, in between running to my manufacturer and client meetings. This is my haven, where I work on new designs, fill orders, write… Actually, my desk was the first purchase made for our new apartment. Love at first sight! It certainly serves its purpose.

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Both Elizabeth and I are doing what we love. She is continuing to find her inspiration behind the lens, and I am creating, both in the form of bags and with words. As the new year approaches, what is your dream? To live in Paris, Buenos Aires, Tokyo? To start a new career? To travel? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear from you. You’ll also be entered to win a Kasia Dietz bag of your choice. As an additional bonus, take 30% off all my bag collections from now until December 15th with the code: HOLIDAYS.

Morocco in Paris

These days as Paris temperatures decrease and the sun sets early, I’ve taken to hiding out in hammams as often as possible. All in the name of research of course, as I seek to discover the best hammans in Paris for a feature in Bonjour Paris. What have I found thus far? A little taste of Morocco.

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Hidden behind a door and down a courtyard on bustling rue Montorgueil in Paris’ 2nd arrondissement, sits a portal into Morocco. There is no outward sign of its presence, and rightly so. For decades, Aux Bains Montorgueil was a hammam designed exclusively for Moroccan royalty. It was not until 2004 that this clandestine hammam and spa opened to the public. It was discovered solely through word of mouth until their recent creation of a website.

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Entering Aux Bains Montorgueil you have the sensation of arriving to a hammam in the heart of Marrakesh. Warmly welcomed by Moroccan women Souad and Wafa with traditional music playing in the background, I was led downstairs to begin this centuries old cleansing ritual. The actual hammam is filled with heavenly scents of eucalyptus and orange blossom. After detoxing in the luxurious heat, Souad lathered me with homemade green clay in preparation for the scrubbing, or gommage. Followed by a thorough cleansing and a return to the hammam, my facial began. My exfoliation was a concoction of cinnamon, honey and sugar, followed by a sesame and honey mask, both all natural and made by Souad and Wafa. Curious if these sweet mixtures were edible, I was told that often in Morocco only natural foods are used to cleanse the skin. (Admittedly, I did taste my mask and it was delicious!) Feeling completely relaxed, I was led upstairs to the massage room where fleur d’oranger, orange blossom, was gently rubbed into my rejuvenated skin. I ended my Moroccan experience in the relaxation room with a glass of mint tea. Now I understood why this was such a well kept secret for so long.

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Discover Aux Bains Montorgeuil for yourself at 55 rue Montorgeuil from Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 9pm.

experiences

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In 2008, living locally while traveling was made possible with the launch of Airbnb. Since then it’s grown to include cities around the world, from Mexico City to Melbourne, with Paris being its largest market. In recent years Airbnb has realized the value of local experiences in its top destinations, and today it launches Airbnb Experiences starting in 12 cities, of which I’m very excited to be a part of! What is this exactly? It’s a way for a traveler to meet locals and get to know their city on a more personal and ‘expert’ level over one or three days.

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In my case, I’m a handbag designer living in the North Marais with a vast knowledge of local fashion and fellow artisans, most of whom like myself, manufacture in Paris. On my fashion tour I will introduce visitors to these fashion, jewelry and shoe designers, and they will learn about local design and French style, while visiting Parisian ateliers. I’ll also be teaching these visitors how to design their own custom tote bag in my bag painting workshop. As a traveler myself, I’m looking forward to meeting others from around the world in the months ahead.

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These are the beautiful bags that were created during our video shoot. You can view the video and my profile online at Airbnb, here. Wishing you all many memorable experiences, in Paris and beyond!

United

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I wasn’t planning on sharing my thoughts on recent world events, but it has been hard to focus on anything else. Days ago America elected a new president. This is not meant to be a political post, nor am I trying to attack anyone, that’s not my goal with this blog. I try my best to spread optimism and inspire others with life in the City of Lights, and my frequent travels, both for which I feel very lucky. I am however, American, born to a Polish immigrant mother and an American father who taught me freedom of expression and acceptance of others. I grew up in a privileged community in the Hamptons, while spending summers in Communist Poland, and took pride in my bi-cultural upbringing. America is composed of immigrants after all. It wasn’t until I moved to New York City that I truly felt at home, having met so many others like myself. My circle of friends represented India, Pakistan, Mexico, Colombia, France, Italy, Israel, Bangladesh, Spain, Argentina, England, New Zealand, Korea, Turkey… the list goes on. We all felt accepted regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or social status. THIS is what America is to me. Certainly New York City does not represent the rest of the country, nor the world. Living in Paris and traveling as much as I do has proven that. Yet I have a hard time accepting the racism and bigotry which has recently been fueled in the United States of America, key word: United. It is my hope and prayer that our new president will unify rather than isolate the people of my country, and even more so, the people of our world. In moments of doubt let us remember this, and act accordingly.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Nice: Top Picks

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After Paris, Nice is the largest city of art and culture in France. And if you like art as much as I do, then you must make a stop in this culturally rich city, where art finds a home, even around the city streets. There is so much to do and see in the capital of the Côte d’Azur, where does one even begin? By stopping in the Tourism Office you can certainly gather enough information to keep you busy for days. Or you can use this list of my top things to do, see and eat. Some of this advice comes from my Nicoise friend, and who better to trust than a local?

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SLEEP: To wake up surrounded by art and history, and with a view of the sea, stay at Le Negresco. This is the Art Hotel in Nice, and an experience you won’t ever forget. You can read all about my stay, here. If you’re on a budget, another artful option is Hotel Windsor, where each room is designed by a different artist.

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VISIT: With over fifteen museums and dozens of galleries, which are most worth visiting? That remains a matter of opinion depending on interest, but ones that I would not miss are Musée Matisse, exhibiting one of the world’s largest collections of Henri Matisse’s works, Musée Marc Chagall, dedicated to much of the artist’s religious work, and the Museum of Contemporary and Modern Art, highlighting the work of more recent artists including sculptor and painter Niki de Saint Phalle. I recommend picking up a 48 hour Museum Pass which will gain you affordable access to these and many other museums and galleries. Keep in mind that most are closed on Tuesdays.

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DO: To really get to know a city, stroll its morning markets. This is where you’ll interact with the locals and simply observe the life of the city. On Cours Saleya in the Old Town, there’s a market every morning from 6:30am. The most famous is the Marché aux Fleurs, or Flower Market, from Tuesday to Sunday. This market is the most well known, since it was in Nice that the first wholesale flower market in the world appeared in 1897. Here too you can purchase fruits and vegetables until around 1:30pm, with the flowers being sold until 5:30. If you’d like an expert guided tour of the food market followed by a cooking class, Rosa at Les Petits Farcis is your girl!

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EAT: The specialities of Nice include pissaladière, bread with a topping of caramelised onions, olives, garlic and anchovies, and socca, a sort of fried chickpea cake, much like the farinata I often eat in Cinque Terre. Both of these you can try at many cafes in the Old City. Here are food expert David Lebovitz’s favorite socca spots in Nice. As for where to dine, one local spot serving the best plate of pesto pasta I’ve ever eaten outside of Italy, is La Merenda. It’s a tiny restaurant in the Old Town that doesn’t take reservations, but worth the wait. Also be sure to stop by Maison Auer for the best candied fruit and chocolate covered almonds in France, among other delicacies!

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WALK: Be sure to walk around the Old Town and get lost in the maze of streets lined with pastel colored buildings. The Promenade des Anglais is the famous stretch in front of the sea. Follow it all the way to Castle Hill for the best views of the city and its surroundings. Climb the free elevator at the seaside; look for the ‘Ascenseur de la Chateau‘ sign. From the top you’ll have a view of Nice all the way to Antibes, and from the other side you can see Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.

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Le Negresco

My last trip to the Côte d’Azur was in March. I spent a little time in Nice but was eager to become better acquainted with this, the region’s capital. Aside from its Mediterranean climate, it’s a city of art and culture, another reason to fall in love with it. To properly immerse myself in the world of French art, where better to stay than at the historic hotel Le Negresco. Centrally located between Cannes and Monaco, it sits on the famous Promenade de Anglais. It is here in this National Historic Monument, that the French works of art from Louis XIII to modern art, have a home. I knew I would be in good company.

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Upon entering, the grandeur of this hotel is hard to describe. I’ve stayed in many beautiful hotels around the world, but Le Negresco is in a class of its own. The Versailles Lounge alone takes your breath away, with Louis XIV’s portrait, marble floors, hand-painted ceiling, and elegant furnishings. The fireplace too, is original. I could imagine the decadent events having taken place in this salon since Henri Negresco opened the hotel in 1913, now over 100 years old.

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Next I entered the Royal Lounge, centrally situated beneath a large glass dome. This is Negresco’s soul, and you can certainly feel it. Once an elegant ballroom, it’s now an elaborate event space, displaying portraits of French royalty, including Napoleon III. A stunning Baccarat chandelier provides the centerpiece. Fittingly, the hotel’s 93 year old owner Jeanne Augier’s portrait also has a place on the wall. After all, it is she who welcomes each guest to her home, which she has taken great pride in decorating. She lives on the top floor with her cat, and ensures that this private, family run hotel remains at the highest 5-star level in comfort and cuisine.

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A good friend from Nice had often spoken about the restaurants at Le Negresco, particularly the vibrant and colorful La Rotonde. It’s in fact an 18th century carousel with wooden horses circling the restaurant. My eyes opened wide in amazement as I entered this space and understood immediately why it’s such a warm and welcoming place dedicated to families. The terrace opens up to the sea and this is where I chose to have lunch, accompanied by the sun. Breakfast would be enjoyed in the carousel.

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Le Negresco is also known for its haute cuisine. Le Chantecler is Nice’s finest restaurant, with two stars in the Michelin Guide under the culinary expertise of chef Jean-Denis Rieubland. He defines his cuisine and style as “inspired by Provence, with the respect of its products and traditions”. This is THE place for French gastronomy, boasting a wine cellar of over 15,000 bottles, with woodwork dating back to 1751. After dinner you can unwind at the neighboring bar with live music and a good digestif.

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With each of the 96 rooms and 21 suites uniquely decorated with period furniture, I was eager to take a closer look. Mrs Augier being an art connoisseur and collector, walking through the hotel and up the four floors feels much like being in a museum, with artwork from Salvador Dali and Sonia Delaunay, tapestries from Raymond Moratti and sculptures from Niki de Saint Phalle, to name a few. And the rooms? Timeless perfection.

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I felt very much at home in my room overlooking the Bay of Angels and knew I would return to this Art Hotel called Le Negresco.

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